Places

A visit to Las Vegas

Situated in the Mojave Desert, its Spanish name means “The Meadows” because of the wild grasses and desert springs originally found there. An oasis in an otherwise dry and unwelcoming place, it became known to Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. It was discovered by the modern world in 1829, when a young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera put it on the map. Settlers were slowly but surely drawn there and in 1905, it became a city. In 1911, it was incorporated.

Its growth back then was limited by the small water supply, but in a couple of decades, things were about to change in a big way. The year when Las Vegas came to be known as the place we know it today was 1931, when it legalized gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This move was “blessed” later that year when construction on the massive Hoover Dam started nearby. This meant the city now had access to an incredible water supply and it began to grow in spite of the Great Depression, helped by the influx of workers who stayed there to work on the Dam. The workers wanted to have fun when they weren’t working and thus Las Vegas began to gain its reputation as Sin City. After WWII, the big real estate developments began and the Strip as we know it today began to take shape. Hotels, casinos and stores, each bigger, more colorful and more lit than the other, dotted the ever-changing cityscape. And let’s not forget the appearance of heavy-duty, commercial air conditioning units in the 1950s, which can be credited with the tremendous growth in human settlements in what were uninhabitable areas. None of the large real estate developments in any of the hot places in the world would function without air conditioning.

Here is a gallery of photographs I took back in 2010 during a visit to Las Vegas. Drab during the day, its colors washed out by the desert sunlight, this place truly comes alive at night and it stays that way till morning. Throngs of people always crowd its sidewalks and the car traffic slows to a near halt on the Strip due to gawkers. If you’re going to visit, I recommend you do it during the cooler seasons (autumn, winter or spring). Visit the shops and museums during the daytime and save your evenings for walking around on the Strip and taking in the lights and the entertainment. It is unlike anything on Earth at night. The place screams abundance and availability of anything and everything. It is the pinnacle of consumerism. While I was there, I got a clear sense that everything you could want was readily available. Ads are everywhere, for every thing. All of the luxury brands have a visible presence there. Every big hotel has its own shopping mall inside, exquisitely decorated, lit to perfection and air conditioned to keep you comfy and happy. Restaurants are everywhere. Bars are everywhere. Should you want to go outside, hustlers on the sidewalk hand you phone numbers for “entertainers” of all sorts. Young women invite you into the casinos. Big LED panels flash ads at you non-stop. The buildings are all lit to perfection, to accentuate their architecture and make them stand out and draw you in. You will get visually and mentally overwhelmed by it all, so be ready for that. As I said above, I took these photos in 2010. The city has changed yet again since then. Some places already look different. Frequent change is the only constant there.

Enjoy the photographs!

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How To

How to use a Drobo with the WD TV

The WD TV is my favorite media player (I think it’s better than the Apple TV), and since I also love the Drobo, I wanted to combine the two and have the ultimate media entertainment center: a Drobo packed full of videos, photos and music, connected to a WD TV, which is connected to a large-screen HDTV. I did just that for my parents in December. It was my Christmas gift to them.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you want to do the same thing. As you might guess, several complications arise when you attempt to get a device with huge storage capability connected to a media player. The complications have to do mainly with the file systems that the media player can read and use properly, and with the ability of the on-screen menus to navigate an abundance of content efficiently.

The WD TV can only work fully with NTFS, HFS and FAT32 file systems. By “fully”, I mean will build its own catalog of the media present on those devices, store it at the root level of those drives as a hidden directory, and will let you browse using its on-screen menus, by date or by file name. It will also read the HFS+ file system, which is native to the modern Macs, but it will not be able to write to it and build its own catalog; this means you’ll only be able to navigate the media on that device by folder.

The Drobo can be formatted as an NTFS or FAT32 volume when using a PC, or as an HFS+ or FAT32 volume when using a Mac, if you happen to use the Drobo Dashboard to do it. If you use the Disk Utility app on a Mac, and you also happen to have the 3G NTFS drivers installed, you can also format the Drobo as a 3G NTFS or as an HFS volume.

I ended up formatting my parents’ Drobo as an HFS+ volume. I’ll tell you why below. If you’re not interested in the minutiae, skip ahead to the next paragraph.

  • First, I tried formatting it as a 3G NTFS volume. For some reason, the formatting process either froze or took unusually long to complete, and the resulting volume wasn’t readable on the Mac or on the WD TV. I have a feeling that had to do with the fact that the volume was over 2TB in size, and 2TB is the upper limit for NTFS volumes, but I’m not sure.
  • I tried splitting the Drobo into two HFS+ volumes, one 2TB and the other 400GB (2.4 TB was the total available space on the Drobo), then formatting those volumes as 3G NTFS volumes, but that didn’t work either. The formatting process kept hanging up in Disk Utility.
  • I tried formatting the Drobo as a straight NTFS volume using a Parallels VM running Windows XP (I installed the Drobo Dashboard inside the VM), but that kept hanging up as well. Not sure why. Perhaps I should have used a physical Windows machine, but I didn’t have one available to me.
  • I then formatted the Drobo as a FAT32 volume. The upper limit on that was once again 2TB, and I had 2.4TB available. I thought I’d forget about the extra 400GB for a while and just focus on getting the 2TB volume working. Predictably enough, after copying some media over and testing it, it worked fine, but I noticed two things:
    • The WD TV took longer and longer to read the device and build its catalog once I connected the Drobo. The more movies I had on the Drobo, the longer it took the WD TV to catalog each of them. That meant waiting up to 20 minutes for the WD TV to get done with its work before I could use it. I didn’t like that.
    • I had several movies that were over 4GB in size, and since that’s the upper limit for a single file in the FAT32 system, I couldn’t get them copied over to the Drobo. I didn’t like that either.
  • I thought I’d try another route, so I formatted the Drobo as an HFS volume. While this was fully readable and writable on a Mac and also on the WD TV, unfortunately, the maximum file size on HFS is 2GB, and the maximum volume size is also 2TB, same as FAT32 and NTFS. Not much help there.
  • The only choice left to me was HFS+. In spite of the fact that the WD TV can only read it, not write to it, this was and still is, I think, the best choice for formatting a Drobo and for working with the WD TV, from the entire group (NTFS, FAT32, HFS and HFS+). The upper limit on an HFS+ volume is 16 EB (exbibytes), which is equal to 1024 pebibytes — basically, an incredible amount of space. One pebibyte is equal to 1024 terabytes, and the upper limit one can get with a Drobo at the moment is 5.5 terabytes, so it’s nowhere near the technical capability of the file system. Furthermore, the upper limit on a single file in HFS+ is 8 exbibytes, which, as shown above, is just plain huge. In plain English, this mean I could format the Drobo as a single HFS+ volume and not worry about any of my movie files exceeding 4GB or more in size.

Great! Now that I’ve put you to sleep, let’s move on. Next on the agenda came the transfer of all the data to the Drobo. You see, I’m also using my parents’ Drobo as an offsite storage device. You know what they say, give and ye shall receive, right? I made them happy by setting up their media center and also got to back up most of my data, media, and photographs. The transfer of the information took a while, as you might imagine. I didn’t time it, but I think it was somewhere between 24-36 hours to copy about 2TB of data from my Drobo to their Drobo. I’m happy to say that the copy operation did not crash, and completed successfully. That’s a testament to the stability of the Drobo as a storage device.

After the data transfer was complete, I was done. It was time to sit back on the sofa and enjoy my hard work. Even though the WD TV couldn’t aggregate the media on the Drobo and build its catalog, which would have let me browse the media by type (video, photo or music), date or title, I was able to browse the Drobo by folder. Since I’d already organized the media that way, I didn’t mind it at all. I had my videos broken down into separate folders for Cartoons (I love classic cartoons), Movies, Documentaries and TV Shows (I love Mister Ed), and I was able to watch most of my stuff.

As a side note, even though the WD TV manual says it’ll play WMV9 files, and my Mister Ed episodes were encoded (I believe) with WMV9 technology, I can’t play them on the WD TV. I’m sad about that, but at least I can watch them on my MacBook and iMac. Perhaps I’ll re-encode them into MP4 files at some point.

I mentioned something at the start of the article about the on-screen menus and their ability to navigate the content efficiently. The WD TV lists the media in thumbnail mode by default, which means you’ll have a little icon next to each media file. When you have a ton of files to look through, that’s not very efficient. Fortunately, you can go into the WD TV settings and change it to List mode. This will list each piece of content on a single line, and will let you see more titles per screen. To scroll up and down the file lists faster, simply hold down the up or down arrows on the WD TV remote, and it’ll accelerate, speeding through the titles.

I’ll concede that the on-screen menus for the WD TV aren’t as slick as those you see on the Apple TV — and by that I mean how easy and quick it is to navigate to a particular title, not the glitz and glamour of a fancier UI skin — so there’s some work to be done there, but the WD TV is much more practical than the Apple TV when it comes to playing your media. You simply plug in a USB drive loaded to the gills with movies and photos, and it’ll play them right away, which is something that the Apple TV just doesn’t do out of the box.

That’s it, folks! Let me summarize things to make it easy for you:

  1. Format your Drobo in HFS+ if you have a Mac, or NTFS if you have a PC. Keep in mind there’s a 2TB per volume limit under NTFS, and that WD TV will only recognize one volume at a time (at least currently). Stay away from FAT32 and HFS because of the file-size limitations (4GB for FAT32 and 2GB for HFS).
  2. Transfer your media to the Drobo.
  3. Enjoy!

Buy a WD TV or a Drobo.

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Places

Baltimore Aquarium’s Dolphin Show

During our last trip to Baltimore, we visited the Baltimore Aquarium and also attended their dolphin show, called “Play!”. It lasts about a half hour or so and it’s geared toward kids — which means quite a bit of talk about dolphins and not so many jumps. If you expect a show packed with acrobatics and non-stop jumps, try the Miami Seaquarium.

I got a bit annoyed with the constant solicitation of applause for the simplest tricks.

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A Guide To A Good Life

I miss Collier's Weekly

I know Collier’s has been gone for a long time, but when I see stuff like this, or this or this, I can’t help but love it. Maybe we should have more drawings in our magazines, and they should be done with the same classy style and atmosphere. Things are a bit too realistic nowadays. We can always get plenty of reality. We can’t avoid it. It would be nice to open a magazine and get lost in its own little world, where the articles, drawings, photos and yes, even ads are different from all the rest.

Collier’s Weekly

Image Credit: ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive

Such little thought is given these days to good cartoonists. Let’s not forget a good cartoonist made Harper’s Weekly what it was, and great artists gave Collier’s its look. Instead of getting celebrities to do provocative photo shoots on the cover — and to manipulate their looks into something completely artificial — it would be better to feature wonderful art like Collier’s did.

Ad from Collier’s Weekly

Image Credit: ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive

When we think class these days, fashion magazines come to mind. You open them up, and about 80% of those things are ads with lanky, weird-looking models sulking or posing awkwardly/provocatively. There’s very little substance, and very little interesting stuff. True class in a magazine is a style that comes through the page, and it’s about art, layout, colors, copy and yes, atmosphere. It should invite the reader to open it. While it deals with the problems of the world, it should be upbeat and entertain. Maybe I’m off the mark, but from what I’ve seen so far, I really do wish Collier’s could be resurrected, with the same style and panache of its heyday.

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Events

Happy New Year!

Things were quite busy at our home as the New Year arrived. I was working on my site, transferring the content over from ComeAcross and making sure the feeds were pointing the right away. That was my New Year’s surprise, something that I’d planned to do for quite some time. I wanted to move all of my content from ComeAcross to my namesake domain. It’s now pretty much finished, minus a few details that still have to be worked out. By the way, I apologize for the double feed items that occurred overnight. I’ve straightened that out and it shouldn’t happen again.

We also found time to celebrate with a wonderful dinner prepared by Ligia, and a couple of movies. We watched “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), which was wonderful even for a second time, and “The Secret of NIMH” (1982) an animated movie which could have been much more entertaining, but was so stretched out that it was dull. Children might still enjoy it though, for its animation and colors, which were done quite well.

I leave you with a few photos. This was the last dawn of 2007.

Last sunrise of 2007

New Year’s wouldn’t be New Year’s without the celebratory sparkler.

Celebration

The clear sky allowed us a wonderful view of the New Year’s half moon. The photo is somewhat soft, and I apologize for that, but there was no way I could have gotten that close without the aid of the digital zoom on my trusty Olympus C770UZ (and as you may already know, digital zooms will make things softer).

Have a slice

Happy New Year! May this year bring you many blessings and good health!

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Lists

Music videos

This is the original Jerry C video. For those of you who don’t know about it, he’s a teenager from Taiwan who plays the guitar. It goes without saying that he’s good, or else he wouldn’t have gotten over 20 million views. Judging by his later videos, he favors rock pieces, but fortunately (for him) he decided to play a classical piece in his initial video.

The wonderful combination of a classical score with a rock guitar struck a chord with people, and he became famous overnight. He’s gotten invited on TV shows, and also held concerts. If what I heard was right, he’s also been offered record deals. Here’s his official site.

Richard Hyung-Ki Joo and Aleksey Igudesman are a funny musical duo. They do stuff like this in their shows. Their site is here.

Flight of the Conchords is a New Zealand band that likes on-stage banter just as much as playing whimsical music.

Quinn Sullivan is a little boy that can play the guitar and sing. It’s funny to see him sing adult lyrics. I have to wonder if he knows what they mean.

The Yoshida brothers play the Shamisen, which is a traditional three-string Japanese instrument related to the guitar. But they play it very differently, and that’s what sets them apart. They’ve got a TV show appearance video here, but I prefer the more polished music video below.

This pan flute music video from the Andes, called “Espiritu Andino” is pretty cool.

The pan flute is also a traditional Romanian instrument, but the playing style differs there. Here’s one of the undisputed masters of the instrument from Romania, Gheorghe Zamfir, in concert.

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Lists

Quirky music videos

I like quirky, odd music videos, alongside the well-made, polished commercial stuff. My latest favorites from YouTube are enclosed below.

The Kooks have some pretty good music. Here they cover Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”:

This Japanese group put together a stop-motion animation video set to something that could be called music:

Luray Caverns, in Virginia, has a man-made wonder: the Great Stalacpipe Organ. It’s made of little hammers that strike stalactites of various dimensions, producing musical sounds. I heard it in person, and it sounds pretty eerie in that big, dark cave.

Don’t know if these fellows are real policemen, but the song and video are pretty funny. Perhaps it’s because I can’t understand a single word:

Have you ever heard Bolero played on a single instrument? No? Then have a peek at this:

A talented flute player by the name of Greg Patillo put together some unique interpretations of popular theme songs:

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Reviews

Night at the Museum (2006)

Night at the Museum (2006)Ligia and I saw Night at the Museum (2006) last night, and we loved it. We knew we had to see it when we saw the trailer a few months ago. It looked like a really fun, enjoyable movie, and it sure was! I really like movies that don’t get weird on me — by that I mean the plot is simple and enjoyable, the characters are likable, the storyline is appealing, and the movie is fun to watch. This movie met all of those criteria. Call it a family movie, call it a comedy, a very light romance if you will, but most of all, call it great fun. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t leave me with a headache or stress me out unnecessarily. My life is busy and stressful enough already. When I watch a movie, I want to relax and laugh a little. I tell you, Night at the Museum worked for me. I loved it, and Ligia loved it too. Highly recommended!

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Places

Impressions from Walt Disney World – Part 3

This post is a continuation of my series on Walt Disney World.

Lights, Motors, Action! is one of the shows at Disney MGM Studios. It runs only a few times a day, and it involves tightly coreographed action and stunt sequences with cars and motorcycles. The setup is that they’re filming scenes for an upcoming action movie. The truth is, they’re just trying to involve the audience a little more. I have mixed feelings about making everything seem like the movies, but I can certainly agree with this: the show and the stunts are great!

The set is built to resemble a small, Southern French town.

Marketplace

There’s an introduction, where the audience is told what to expect, then the stunts begin, with little breaks to allow the crew to set up the various scenes.

Hero and villain

Divide and conquer

Mid-air

Wheelie

Catch my drift

Jet-set

On fire

Finale

I understand the stunt drivers go through a set of tires in three days, and since the show began, they’ve worn down the pavement on the set by several inches, and it will need to be repaved. There’s also a surprise: you’ll get to see Herbie during the show!

Herbie

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How To

ABC’s of Hand Tools

In 1946, Disney made an industrial short for General Motors called “ABC’s of Hand Tools”. While the whereabouts of that movie, which must have been entertaining, are unknown, the handbook is still with us. Cartoon Brew has the details in this post, along with a link to a PDF of that book. This is funny stuff, and still relevant!

Updated 12/10/09: It’s YouTube to the rescue, thank goodness! Found the video, in two parts, and embedded them below. Enjoy!


Watch Part 1 on YouTube


Watch Part 2 on YouTube

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