Archive for January, 2010
Well it’s late Wednesday night and I don’t have a blog post topic ready. It’s not entirely my fault … it’s been a busy week, and I haven’t really felt like doing anything other than sitting on the couch and playing video games. With all that said, the big news today is Apple’s iPad announcement … something that the internet has been collectively holding its breath for. If the internet could hold its breath that is.
The iPad? It’s basically a big iPhone. At least, that’s the first impression, and it runs a lot deeper since the iPhone apps you already have can also be used on the device. So it is an iPod touch with a 9.7″ screen with the ability to have 3G connectivity for mobile browsing on the go. Not too shabby. What’s interesting about this is Apple really does have a lot of arrows pointing in the right direction. They have a growing user base of users who are able to make purchases in the app and music store, and now they are enabling that same user base to purchase books. Apple’s making it easy for people to feel at home with this device. They can use all their existing iPhone apps, and the interface certainly seems similar enough to the iPhone that people aren’t going to have to re-learn much.
In one particular scene in the giant movie hit Avatar, one of the characters moves a tablet-like device up to a screen and swipes over an image that they wanted to carry around with them. That scene stuck with me, and it made me think that I am very much looking forward to user interfaces of the future. I’m not saying that the Apple iPad is amazing enough to be the wave of the future. But what I am saying is this trend of making user-friendly and intuitive user interfaces that are ditching some of the mainstays of computing is at least starting to look a little like the future. It’s 2010, and we may not have flying cars, but we do have some pretty cool devices. In the demo today, Steve Jobs showed off the New York Times app which lets you read the paper but also show video. That’s starting to feel like the future right there.
I’m not sure that I’ll buy an iPad right away. It would be a pretty awesome device to have on hand to browse my feeds on the couch. Instead of having my burning hot laptop making sure that my legs feel slightly cooked, there would be this sexy device that presumably did a lot of the same sorts of things I would like it to while I’m browsing the web. That said, my laptop is a pretty beefy machine that can do a lot of cool things — including a lot of work-related stuff and some serious photo-editing. So I’m not exactly looking for a replacement for that anytime soon.
One thing that does kinda suck though about this whole thing is while the hardware is there and it sure looks awesome, Apple looks to have locked this down just as much as it has the iPhone. On a device like this, I would love to be able to, for instance, play online poker on it. It’d be great to have an iPad and be playing some, oh I don’t know, Rush Poker on it. (Not that I can play, but I couldn’t resist the urge there). The App store is great. I love it. There’s just a few too many quirks to the Apple review process that either a) make particular kinds of apps (like online poker apps) difficult or impossible to get accepted or b) make the cost of developing an involved app a risky proposition if you don’t know how Apple will respond to all your hard work.
Anyways, it’ll be interesting so see what happens from here. How the market receives Apple’s latest brainchild is something I’ll be watching … and who knows, maybe in a couple years I’ll pick up a 2nd or 3rd generation iPad for myself.
It isn’t too often that you get to experience the day an entire industry changes. It’s even rarer that you get to experience the months of work that go into the day that it gets launched, feel the surge of excitement when it goes live and suddenly thousands of people are using it and saying things like “This is the best thing ever”. Okay, so maybe if you work for Apple you might’ve got used to this sort of thing, but I’m certainly not used to it!
On Tuesday morning, we pushed a new version of the Full Tilt poker software with several new features. Each release generally comes with a big feature, but this one felt extra special. In this release, we pushed Rush Poker. In Rush Poker, instead of picking a table to sit down at, you join a pool of players. The server automatically seats players at tables, and a new hand starts. As soon as you are done with the hand, either by folding or the hand ends, the server picks you up and seats you at a fresh table with other players from the pool. There’s one key twist: Quick Fold allows you to fold out of turn. So if you aren’t happy with the hand you got dealt, you hit the quick fold button and you get picked up and moved to a new table.
The pace of this game is incredible. On average, players are seeing somewhere between 250-300 hands/hour. To put this in perspective, at a normal 6-max ring game you’d be happy to get something on the order of 90-100 hands/hour, and at a 9-max ring game the pace would be slower yet. If one rush poker table is not enough for you though, you can even multi-table it. So you can open up a table or two to really play a lot of hands.
The reception for the update has been phenomenal. People on 2+2, the largest poker forum on the internet, are normally extremely negative about changes. But with this release, the forum went through a very short stage of dislike posts from the people who hadn’t tried Rush Poker yet before exploding into a several-page-long string of posts with reactions ranging from “huh, this is surprisingly fun” to “holy crap this is like poker crack”. While not *all* the posts are positive, the tone of the forum is incredibly different from the norm of whiners and complainers claiming they’ve waited far too long for the things they want to be implemented (not realizing, that it takes a lot of work to implement even some of the “simple” features).
Releasing something like this on the world is an interesting experience. With something like this, you really have no idea whether people are going to love it or hate it. In this particular instance, we really did feel like we had something special going out. Perhaps the biggest innovation since the Sit and Go tournament. I think that like sit and gos, Rush poker is at the very least going to occupy a niche that attracts its own audience of players. It feels like it would be extremely addictive and fun to play, and for those reasons I think it will be a mainstay.
It is amazingly exciting to be part of the online poker industry and observe it through this stage of innovation and competition. The industry is quite young, with online poker really only starting in the late 90′s. This is a very exciting time. The top poker sites are starting to reach maturity in terms of basic feature sets and base games. It will be a very interesting year this year, followed up by probably a couple more interesting years as the sites start to experiment.
I must say though … I’m very jealous of the people playing these games since I am not allowed to play.
Another week of browsing the web – here’s the sharables from this week.
- Death Metal Rooster. This totally makes me giggle every time I see it.
- Dublin guy slips on ice. Poor guy. The worst part is, this was probably the worst fall they recorded. Bet you they were sitting there and got several falls, but this was the most epic.
- Combination lock made of wood. I never knew how combinations locks actually worked … but now I do. Neat video.
- My Favourite Liar. This is the most excellent story of a guy’s favourite professor, who’s teaching style encourages people to evaluate everything that he says. I’ve had some pretty good profs in my day, but I think I would’ve loved a class like this.
- Demolish School Prank Call. I think it’s the accents that made me love this. That and the cuteness.
- Rush’s Drummer version of Hockey Night in Canada theme song. Very Canadian. Very awesome.
One of the questions I seem to get asked a lot of the time is “What camera should I buy?”. Every time that I get asked this, I end up writing a big long email detailing all the things I like to look and compare between various cameras. Since this question has actually come up more and more frequently, I figured it is time for a blog entry to pass on what knowledge I know in this form. This article doesn’t recommend a particular model. A camera is a personal choice, and one small difference in two otherwise perfectly identical cameras could be enough to sway you from choosing one over the other. By the way, people who already have a camera but don’t know what some of the specs on their camera mean can tune in too since I’ll go into those details as well.
Before I go into the specifics, here’s some general tips. Cameras are an investment, and you don’t want to rush purchase. If you have a local camera shop, it doesn’t hurt to go in and ask questions and handle the cameras. The better shops will allow you to play with the controls, and snap a few sample photos. They’ll also be able to tell you about the different parameters on the cameras. Like buying anything techy, it doesn’t hurt to crosscheck what the people in the shop are telling you with other sources to make sure they know what they’re talking about!
In terms of finding good deals, the goto place is often B&H Photo. This camera supercenter based in New York City employs an army of people who know what they’re talking about and has some of the best deals available anywhere. That said, if you aren’t in the states then you might be able to do a little better consulting other places. For those in Alberta, I’ve had really good experience with The Camera Store based in Calgary. They tend to have very good prices (sometimes beating B&H’s price when you include shipping and currency conversion). If you’re buying a consumer camera (and sometimes even the prosumer cameras), you might also be able to find good deals at the bigger retail chains like future shop, best buy, etc. Just be warned that the people in those stores tend not to know much about cameras, so make sure you’ve done your research before buying there.
For camera reviews and specification sheets, the site to go to is Digital Photography Review. This site has listings for every camera going back years. If you want to do a side by side comparison of two cameras, this is the place to do it. But to do that, you’ll need to know what features are the game-breakers. We’ll get to those in a moment. But first …
SLR or Point and Shoot
The first big choice is choosing whether to go SLR or not. Single-Lens-Reflex cameras use an internal mirror to reflect the light coming through the lens up into the viewfinder. This means that what you’re seeing through the viewfinder is exactly what the lens sees. Most professional photographers (one might say almost all of them) use SLR cameras, and there’s a good reason. They offer two big features: the photo quality tends to be very good, and they offer the ability to pick from a vast array of lenses that change the type of photography you can do. You can pop off your walk-around lens and slap on a telephoto and suddenly you have a very different view on the world through your camera. The downsides? The SLR bodies are comparably expensive, they are large and bulky, and to take advantage of them you really need to spend more money on a good lens.
Fundamentally then, the decision on whether to go with an SLR or a P&S camera depend on what your goals are. If you need a camera that fits in your pocket, or doesn’t hit your budget very hard, then a P&S camera is the way to go. If, on the other hand, you want to get more into photography and the size of the camera isn’t a big deal to you then an SLR might be the way to go for you.
The decision process for each type of camera is very different. If you’re buying a P&S, you really have to take into consideration its focal length, aperture range, and other lens-particular parameters since you don’t really have much opportunity to change the lens. The choice of which SLR body to buy depends a lot more on outside factors: do you have any SLR lenses already? Do you have friends who might be willing to lend you lenses? In these cases, the company you’re going to buy an SLR body from should be one that matches the lenses you have access to. The big two camera companies in this field are Canon and Nikon. Both companies are fiercely competing, and either is a good choice if there are no other factors to tilt your choice one way or the other. Alright — with all that said, let’s look at what all the different parameters mean.
What does everything mean? A camera’s technical spec can be an incredibly intimidating thing to read. Of the various parameters, these are the things to pay attention to. The first two on this list are by far the most important when choosing a P&S camera.
- Focal Length – This stat tells you the “zoominess” of the lens. A small number is a more wide-angle view meaning you can fit more of the scene into the picture. A larger number is more telephoto meaning how far you can zoom into particular parts of the scene. Be warned that you need to be comparing two different cameras on their effective focal ranges. Different digital camera sensor sizes pointed through the same lens would actually have different focal lengths. So a good idea would be to compare the focal lengths on digital photography review. What numbers should you be looking for? 50mm is a standard size that is good for a lot of styles of photography. On the wide angle side, something like 22mm is quite wide … good for taking photos of landscapes and scenery. On the zoom side, 200mm starts to get into some serious zoom.
- Aperture – This stat tells you how wide the lens opens. A smaller number means the lens open wider. A wide aperture will make only a small amount of the picture in focus, leaving the rest blurry. This blurriness is called bokeh. In addition, a wider aperture allows the camera to take light in faster, which means it will be easier to take shots in lower light. A typical P&S camera might have an aperture range of say f/3.2-f/5.8. That means that at the widest angle the widest the aperture can open is f/3.2. At the opposite end, the widest angle the aperture can open to is f/5.8 (which is less wide). Professional quality zoom lens tend to have apertures that open as wide as f/2.8.
- Resolution (megapixels) – While many cameras feature megapixels as one of the biggest features, it is actually much less important than the random salesperson might try to convince you of. See, higher megapixel count means the sensor needs to pack more pixels onto the same size area. With camera companies packing more and more pixels onto this area, the image quality can suffer. The real benefit to higher megapixels? If you like to print your pictures, you can print them bigger. That’s the only real advantage to this way too oversold feature.
Those are the more important features to look at. If the cameras you’re trying to compare between have the same important stats, you can choose between some of the more minor features. For example, cameras range in the quality of video that they shoot which might be more or less important to you. The camera might have a low macro focus range – which means you can put the camera closer to your subject and it can still focus. If you like to take close-up shots, the smaller this distance the better.
Buying a new camera is complicated. There’s a lot of numbers to look at and compare, and beyond all that, you really need to try holding the cameras in your hand and playing with the controls. Modern cameras are capable of taking some amazing pictures, and it is hard to go too wrong. But buying the camera that will match the kinds of photos that you would like to take is pretty important and by looking at some of the numbers you can sway your decision in the correct way.
So if you like to take outdoor scenery shots, you want a camera that goes as wide angle as possible. In the point and shoot range, certainly look for one that goes at least as wide as 24mm. Scenic photography tends to have everything in focus: which you need a narrow aperture for. Try shooting shots at high numbers like f/11.
If you take your camera into lowlight conditions a lot and would like to have a hope of taking photos without flash, look for a camera with a wide aperture. A tip as well: don’t zoom in with a typical point and shoot — that will make the lens not able to open as wide. Shoot it as wide-angle as possible to get the widest aperture.
Whatever camera you choose, try and take it everywhere. The more pictures you take and the more you learn to use its capabilities, the more likely you’ll be able to capture the moment when you really want to. It’s a great skill to have, and it is also lots of fun!
One of my daily habits (alright, multiple-times-per-day habits) is to open google reader and scan through the blogs that interest me. Google reader is an incredibly efficient way to browse sites that have a decent signal-to-noise ratio. It means that I don’t have to have a list of 100+ bookmarks for all the sites that I like to read. I simply point google reader at it and it keeps track of all the stories.
What this lets me do is stay on top of what’s going on in fields that interest me the most. Anyway, one thing that I think I might start doing a little more of is posting some links to stuff that I’ve found that are cool. So here’s what I’ve found this past week or so.
- Two Gentlemen of Lebowski. A screen writer spent three weeks writing the movie The Big Lebowski in the form of a Shakespearean play. Seriously.
- Great Britain under snow. This incredible satellite photo of the Great Britain shows with remarkable clarity what this cold snap we’re experiencing in this part of the world is like.
- Alma. This short animated film is very well done. Definitely worth the 5 minutes or so playtime.
- Car chase set to Benny Hill theme music. The music truly makes this, although the footage is kinda amusing too.
- Inspector Gadget music played on bottles. Simply awesome.
All of these were stuff I shared with google reader. You can see these items and more on this shared page: http://www.google.com/reader/shared/heraldk.
So for my first content post of the year, I’m going to start with what I plan is a series of posts showing various cooking exploits. It kind of intersects a couple of my interests: I love food, and I love to take pictures — so why not do both?
Back when I lived with my roommate Mike a few years ago, we both liked to cook a little bit, although he was a bit more ambitious in the projects he came up with. Something he introduced me to though was the something awful recipe collection: Goons with Spoons. That’s not where I got this recipe, but it is the style that I’m going to mimic. In each recipe, photos are taken along the way to illustrate how the food is prepared. Maybe it isn’t all that necessary for those experienced in the kitchen, but it is encouraging to know you’re still on track.
So, here is today’s recipe, like you can see in the title: home made pizza. This recipe comes from the Good Eats television show, and is published on the web here. My version only differs from his by taking the amount of salt down since I found the original recipe a bit too salty for my taste. This recipe has been a standby of ours for the last few months. Since the first time we made this at home, I don’t order pizza home, and I don’t often have pizza in restaurants either anymore. This is simply that good. The other thing is it really isn’t all that hard. With a little foresight, you just make the dough earlier in the day and let it rise over the afternoon. Then when dinner time rolls around, roll out your dough and pop it in the oven.
So, with all that said, let’s begin. Here’s what you need:
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp instant yeast
- 2 cups strong/bread flour
- 3/4 cups warm water
The only “special” ingredient here is the bread flour. You can use all purpose flour too, but your crust won’t be as chewy.
The process isn’t terribly complex. Just add the ingredients in roughly the above order, and you’ll be fine. Note that unlike normal yeast, you don’t have to bloom instant yeast in warm water before mixing it in. It works just fine this way. So after some mixing you’ll start to get a ball of dough. Make sure your water is warm though — if it is too cold the yeast won’t be too happy and your dough won’t rise much.
Alright, the only trick is extra flour. You’ll probably find that your mixture is pretty sticky after mixing it all together. You’re going to need to add more flour and exactly how much takes a bit of practice. It’s not game breaking, so don’t sweat it. What you’re looking for is to add enough flour that the dough no longer sticks to your hands and is easy to knead. Make sure to give the dough some kneading – it is this process that makes the starch bonds stronger and will make your dough nicer at the end. I find though that as long as I take my time and add flour slowly as the dough accepts it, that it turns out pretty good. When you’re done, make it into a ball kind of like this:
Now cover with a towel and let sit. You’re done! Go relax for awhile. For this particular day, I went and played Shadow Complex on the xbox for awhile. A great game, by the way! The good eats recipe has you refrigerate the dough overnight, but I haven’t found that to be necessary. Just let it rise for a few hours over the afternoon and by dinner time you’ll have dough you can work with.
Now preheat your oven to 500°F/260°C (you want your oven HOT for pizza). If you have a pizza stone, it should be in your oven while it heats up.
This amount of dough works really well for two restaurant-sized personal thin crust pizzas. If you want a thicker crust, then this will make one pizza I guess. Personally, I much more enjoy thin crust, so it works really well for my wife and I. So if you go this route, cut the dough in half and flatten out on some flour on the counter. Then pick it up and start stretching it out into a disc. What you’re looking for is to maintain a ridge on the edge of the dough to make sure to keep the sauce on the pizza and not spilling over the edges of your pizza.
Keep stretching it out, and try and get it flat in the middle. This just takes some practice to get good at, but it isn’t really possible to mess up. Just try to not put holes in your dough!
Now when it comes to toppings, be creative! Personally, I love BBQ sauce as a base, but you can be more traditional if you like. The real trick at this stage is to not go overboard on the toppings. If you load it up too much, your dough will be soggy in the middle and that’s not cool. This particular time I went with tikka masala sauce, chicken, onions, peppers, and mozzarella cheese.
Pop the pizza into the oven. Ideally it should cook on a pizza stone, or at the very least on a pan that has holes in the bottom to let the heat more evenly cook the crust. But if not, you should do okay with a regular baking sheet. It just won’t be quite as crispy.
Cook for 7-8 minutes or until your cheese starts to brown and the crust starts to get a bit darker. This looks about right:
Once you pull it out of the oven, let it sit for a minute or two. Your tongue will thank you for not burning it. Enjoy!