Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dancing With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight

So I dorked out pretty hard last night, running around the Auburn campus shooting pictures of the lunar eclipse.  I had a good time, and actually learned a lot about the relationship between aperture and shutter speed.  So here are a few notes about my evening.

The moon is a lot smaller than you think it is.  Seriously.  At least it's a lot smaller than I thought it was.  In my mind, the moon always takes up about a quarter of the sky.  But when I got out tNightTimeEaglehere trying to take pictures of it, even with a 30x optical zoom it didn't come anywhere close to filling my frame. 

That makes me glad I didn't follow up on my initial idea to drive out to the middle of nowhere to avoid city lights.  Instead I went running around campus looking for good vantage points to frame the moon against building and statues.

The moon is also a lot brighter than you think it is, as well.  That's what made the eclipse such a great environment for nighttime photography.  Without getting too in-depth, digital cameras have a limit on their dynamic range (the difference between the brightest and the darkest point in the photo).  And a normal moon is so much brighter than everything else at night that it either ends up overexposed, or everything else is underexposed.  So during a lunar eclipse, you end up with the aesthetic value of having a full moon in the frame, but also can take very long exposure shots without the moon blowing everything out.

So please check out my Picasa Web Album, for the full results of the evening.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Making Spreadsheets for Fun

I am such a dork.

Out of boredom/procrastination on a lazy Sunday morning, I've been doing a little bit of analysis of my Netflix movie rental habits.  In the past three and a half years, I have watched 350 movies though this service.  That translates to 7.8 movies per month, and, at $18 per month subscription fees, means that I pay roughly $2.30 per movie watched*.

This seems pretty reasonable to me.  That's cheaper per movie that I would get renting movies from the video store.  Of course, it's not as cheap as piracy, which I can't honestly say I'm morally opposed to, but I've written at length about how much I like Netflix's ratings and recommendations service, and I find the queuing mechanism invaluable for organizing my movie watching habit.  So it is a service that I don't at all mind paying for.

But recently I've been thinking about the future.  Especially about high definition, and what my options will be in moving in that direction.

Now that Blu-ray seems to have won the HD-Disc format wars, I will likely soon be picking up a Blu-ray player (at least as soon as the 2.0 profile machines come out, *grumble*).  Netflix allows seamless upgrades to Blu-ray discs whenever they are available, so this will serve my purposes for the near future.

But I feel pretty confident that HD downloads are the true way of the future, so I've been looking at my options on that front as well.  The current options, however, are just too expensive for my current movie-watching habits.  The Apple-TV, X-Box 360 Marketplace, TivoHD+Amazon Unbox, and my cable company's On-Demand service all offer hi-def downloads, but cost between 4 and 7 dollars per movie.  The quality upgrade over DVD just isn't enough justify the increased costs for me.

So here's what I really want.  I want Netflix (or someone using their model) to make a set-top box.  This box would have enough hard drive space to store up to 5 HD movies (depending on subscription plans).  The movies would be downloaded, not streamed, to maximize the video quality.  The downloading would the throttled so as not to interrupt normal Internet activity.  The downloads could take up to two day to complete (Netflix's current minimum turn-around time anyway).  The GUI of the set top box would display a "Return" button next to each currently downloaded movie, which when clicked would delete that movie and begin download of the next one in the queue.

Will this happen?  I dunno.  This kind of thing has been rumored for more than a year.  But I'm afraid that Netflix would want to tie it to their low quality "Watch Instantly" service.  Until broadband capacity is seriously upgraded, no streaming service will be able to match the quality of a disc.  In addition, the "Watch Instantly" service doesn't take advantage of the queuing mechanism that I love so much.

So, we'll see.  But for now, I'm going to go throw my 351st movie into the DVD player.

*For the purposes of my calculations, 1 disc full of episodes of a tv series counted as 1 movie, and I didn't consider my "Watch Instantly" activity.