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Archive for February, 2009

Spring is nearly here

The days are finally getting longer, the sun is staying in the sky, and the snow seems desperately trying to gain a purchase, but is being dragged away by the oncoming march of warmer weather.  When the last snowfall hits, the skies begin to turn blue, and the leaves return, there is only one thing I look for; rain.  The first great deluge of the year.  See, for the entirety of winter, layer upon layer of salt has blanketed the roads until it forms a white crust.  But once the rain hits, the mana from heaven washes it all away leaving pristine and clean expanses of tarmac.

And in this world, there is only one way to enjoy that.  In the saddle of a motorcycle.

So this year, I browsed around and managed to find one that not only tickled my fancy, but grabbed hold of it and took it to places I never dreamed of.  Now, I realize that not many people I know ride; essentially it’s only my wife and I.  So, with the day hitting possibly 50 for the first time this year, I want to walk you through what it’s like.  What it’s like to own a motorcycle.

Specifically, what it will be like to own this one:

A 2009 Honda VFR-800 Interceptor.

Now, I know the first thing you notice is the headlamps, and how it looks like it’s had an appointment with an overeager plastic surgeon for a facelift, but that has a purpose.  See, when most people envision a street bike, even many who ride it, they picture this:

This is a Yamaha R1 leaning into a corner with such force that  the pegs nearly scrape the concrete.  It’s a 998cc Inline 4 DOHC engine that reaches peak power at an astronomical 12,500 rpms.  And you’ll need to take it that far, because this is the hardest of the hardcore crotch rockets.  The windscreen is low-profile and bulged to accommodate a helmet while in a full-race tuck.  The pegs are high and slug rearward, to keep out of the way as you lean into a hair-pin.  The suspension is firm with the chassis inflexible and rigid, to better allow you to sling the bike from one extreme angle to the other as you make your way around MidOhio or something.

The only problem is, there’s only one Valentino Rossi, and odds are, you’re not him.  In fact, I’m willing to be out of the entire population of motorcycle riders out there, maybe 5% can take this bike to the limit of what it can do.  And that’s where it’s happiest, because that’s what you’re paying for.  This bike is just….staggering.  But it’s also useless.

To compare it to a car, it’s basically like buying a Formula 2 car.  It’s blisteringly fast, face-ripping quick, but in traffic?  And are you really going to want to drop it down one or two gears to get into the power band to pass a truck on the highway?  And then kick it back up to 6th to cruise?  Imagine driving along in your car and every time you wanted to do something, you had to turn off the radio, turn on the windshield wipers and only then could you get enough power to the engine to pass a car on the highway.  I mean, really, do you want to bother with all that?

But the Interceptor is different.  The handlebars are wider, and further back, providing a more comfortable riding posture.  And because the handlebars are wider, and the wheels just a bit further apart, it’s more planted too.  You’ll feel confident enough that you can ride to the limit of what you can, and the bike won’t rip your head off and vomit down your neck.  And while it only has about 800cc’s worth of power compared to the 998cc’s of the Yamaha, they’re torquier and further down in the midrange, where you’ll actually use them.

Now, at this point, I want to explain something.  This:

Is a Bugatti Veyron.  It is the single most powerful, and most expensive production car on the planet.  It’s quad-turbocharged 8.0 liter W-16 engine produces an earth-shattering 1,001 horsepower.  It will reach, and this has been verified, 253 mph.  That’s 1/3 the speed of sound at sea level.  It is probably the fastest production car we will see in our lifetime.

But the interesting thing is this.  Even at 1,001 bhp, it’s something called ‘power-to-weight ratio’ that is what’s really important.  A freight train can produce far more horsepower than the Veyron, but it’s hard pressed to go any faster than maybe 60 mph.  And it’s all down to weight.  The Veyron is handicapped because it’s a car, and needs all the usual car bits that we and the government deem necessary.  So for each pound it puts on, it needs more power to push that pound along, and more power means more engine, which means more weight, which means more power, and well, you see where this is going.  Hence why getting a car to 253 mph needs so much from the engine; for every one more mile an hour you push a car, mother nature in the form of wind resistance, road friction, and that mother of all speed limiters; heat, is going to be pushing the car back.  So you need to keep the weight as small as possible.

The Bugatti Veyron weighs in at a grand total of 4,160 lbs (or 1,888 kg), with it putting out 1,001 bhp.  So the power-to-weight ratio is – 389.8 W/kg.  Which is very, very good.  For comparison, a Ford Focus with a 2.0 liter engine does about 94 W/kg.  But here’s what you have to consider…

I’ll never own a Bugatti Veyron.  Neither will you.  In fact, since this car has been in production since 2005, only 133 have ever been produced.  And the reason is pretty obvious; the car costs 1.5 million dollars.  1.5 million.  You can comfortably retire with that much.

Now, the Honda Interceptor costs about $9,000.  So with taxes, and interest on the loan, it’ll cost me maybe around $10k.  Which is probably what a car payment for a Veyron is.  Then again, if you need a loan to buy a Veyron, you probably shouldn’t buy one….

Regardless, the Honda Interceptor, with it’s weaker engine, more comfortable ride height, better ergonomics, and all the things that we and Uncle Sam say it needs, weighs in at 481 lbs (218.2 kg).  And it’s engine will produce about 107 bhp.  Which is actually about 30 bhp less than that Focus I mentioned earlier.  But here’s what you have to remember; that 107 bhp engine?  It’s only pushing you, itself, 2 wheels, and some tin foil down the road.  So it’s power-to-weight ratio?

490.3 W/kg.  That’s over 100 more than the Veyron.  That’s more than a McLaren F1, or an Ultima GTR.  And it costs less than the Focus.  In fact, you could probably get 2 for the price of that Ford.

And you know what else?  It doesn’t come with electronic steering dampers, traction control brakes, doors, windows, seatbelts, air condition, a stereo, a rear window, any of this other bullshit that just weighs down a car and removes you from the world.  No, it’s a partner, not a nanny as you go down the road.  You lean, and it turns.  Each bump in the road is transmitted directly to your hands, and the engine vibration and gear changes are mechanically communicated to your feet.  It talks to you, telling you what’s going on, and eager to take commands.  It’s the ultimate co-pilot.

And look at it!  You can just tell it’s not designed by a committee, it had to be done by some madman on a board who was pissed off at his boss and vented the energy on a piece of paper.  The exhaust has four pipes in a V-formation underneath the seat.  The angles on that thing look like something sent from the future!  Look at the shape of the tail lamps, and how it continues the contours of the rear.  Even the single-sided swing arm for the rear wheel, garishly showing off the rims.  Oh man, this bike is so much more than transportation.  It is absolute nirvana.

So to all of you out there who see a Ferrari or a Porsche and think, ‘Wow, I bet that car goes fast’.  Please.  The only thing about those cars that I like are how they look in my rear-view mirror as I blow by them on something that costs about as much as their insurance premium.  Those cars can do 0-60 in maybe 5 seconds.  I can do it in less than 4.  And I’ll be doing it on half as many tires.

So this, this is the reason why I can’t wait for the first rain of spring.  I want those roads washed and clean when I go out there.  I want to hear them scream in protest as I twist my right hand and lean into another turn.  This is why I love spring.

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Today will be…..interesting

Today I am going to be able to peer into the future.  Pulling away the curtain of time, I will glimpse that which I fear; fatherhood.  My nephew is sick, my sister has to work, and since I’m home all day, I make for a great babysitter.  Normally my youngest sister would stay home (goes to college in the area) and watch him, but she’s out on some kind of trip or something.

 

So today, I get to see what my future will be like.  I get to keep this:

 

candymancan

 

out of trouble.  Yeah.  Right.

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Motion Tracking

 

So there’s compositing technique of motion tracking where you have a program – for example, After Effects – follow a specific point in the footage to use as a motion path for later.  A simple example would be to follow a person walking down the street, then put, say, an Arby’s logo above their head.

Well, another technique is to take footage that’s been shot, and use a program to extrapolate what the camera was doing in 3D space.  It’s a simple idea that’s very complicated to do.  Essentially, the program runs through the footage and selects as many points as it can to follow.  Then, by figuring out how they twist and move relative to themselves, it can make an accurate judgement of where the camera was when it shot the footage.

To illustrate the point, I have two pieces of footage below.  The first is the footage that was shot.  The second is what happens when you extrapolate where the camera was (using a program called SynthEyes), then export that camera to a 3D program (in my case, Cinema 4D), build a very simple animation with that 3D program, then export various layers to a compositing program (AfterEffects), then render out the final take.  All in all, it takes about an hour.

 

Source Video:

Motion tracked video with simple 3D elements

 

So as you can see, when you watch something like Transformers, you now know how they did it.

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So when I get junk mail, I don’t like to throw it away.  Every pamphlet, letter, brochure, etc – I like to take apart and look at.  I couldn’t care less about the message, but some designer made this, and it bears even a small moment of my day to at least look and appreciate it.

I’m not alone in this.  My Uncle is an old-school graphic designer (can even make fonts by hand – how novel!) and he shares this quirk with me.  One thing we are always going on about is package design.  And I mean – we are going on about it.  I bought Wall-E, and when I was amazed at the ingenious design and assembly of it’s case, I brought it over and promptly showed him.  We both marvel over Apple’s product design team, and Adobe’s (the new stuff? fantastic).

Needless to say, when you aquire a….taste? of what ‘good’ can be, and you are in the profession of doing it yourself – well, it’s a rare treat when something comes along that is abysmal.  It’s like the sharpness of a good Scottish Whiskey, or the gentle bite of a great Jambalaya.  It’s the sting that makes everything else so much better.

So without further ado, I bring you the first in, what I sincerely hope is many, Junk Mail Theater!

 

This one comes from a local bank offering ‘Reality Checking’.  Here’s the front page:

awful-mailer-pt-1-copy

And here’s the back:

awful-mailer-pt-21

 

So, first off, I love that the front page of this thing has all the subtly of a sledgehammer.  It reminds me of icanhascheezburger – where the internet is serious business.  And let’s examine the chroma-yellow.  I really wish the scanner nailed what will probably cause epilepsy in certain people, but alas, it managed to de-saturate that somewhat.  Yes, what you are seeing is it toned down.  It’s like hearing that Richard Simmons has been on downers all this time.

And the general concept?  I don’t get it.  Is it supposed to be a comic book?  And how does the product they are selling; ‘Reality Checking’ relate to animals?  And whoever wrote this copy is a genius, because they followed up ‘Stop chasing your tail’ with ‘Finally get tired of chasing your tail’?  Meanwhile, that cat is going to murder that dog.

Another thing, I would like every crap designer out there to realize something; just because you have a CD full of fonts, does not mean you need to use every single one.  You’d assume the guy thought each one he used would make his dick bigger.  I mean, we have Helvetica (the most overused of all fonts) – and not just one in the family, but I count 3 different weights, and the creme-de-la-creme of shit design; Comic Sans.  But it gets even better, he manages to switch font families mid-paragraph!  Mid-paragraph!  That is just dedication to avoiding the easy route; zeroxing a small pile of dog shit and mailing it out to me.

I want to explain something to you.  If there is a god, and I like to think there isn’t – but assuming there is, the only way I would define that god as a just god in this world of torment, hate, violence, natural disasters, and death is this: The only way for god to be a good and just one is to take out the eyes of every designer that uses Comic Sans with a rusty screwdriver.  They deserve it.  Using Comic Sans is design abortion.

And rock star, I would like to remind you with that brilliant choice of Blazing Suns Yellow, you don’t need a drop shadow to make it stand out against white.  If you need a drop shadow to make your font color stand out against white, you need to pick a different fucking color.

I love the stock bullet points, by the way.  There are a million ways to dress it up, and he goes with bullet points – that aren’t even really needed.  You have a bold compressed font marking each bullet, you could have indented that second extended light font and saved my eyes the visual rape that they were hit with.

But the thing that gets me the most – and I mean aside from the color, concept, font, layout, lack of creativity, and just general overall design – the one thing that I don’t get?  Second page, bottom right.  Why is there a mouse on it?  First, you’re talking about dogs, then you’ve connected them to checking with that great segway (Top dog. How clever.), but now you have a small mouse giving the legal.  I kinda see the purpose; small mouse, small voice, small type….but why is he in black and white?  10 seconds on istockphoto.com will give you a whole slew of mice.  In fantastic color!

So that’s today.  I honestly hope it isn’t the last.

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14 inches of rain + 2 days of 60 degree weather + a night-long downpour =

 

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New Gadget

So Em and I ran out and bought iPhones on Saturday.  I’ve had about 2 days of experience with it, and I have to say, I’m kinda thrown off.

 

Apple (and fanboys everywhere) makes it seem like it’ll change your life.  Honestly, it won’t.  It’s a great little device, honestly, and it does some things very well, but it ultimately won’t revolutionize your life.  Granted, most of that is marketing hype that gets you to buy the thing, so it can be forgiven.  But Apple’s ads are close; it does change the way you look at a phone.

 

It’s not really a phone anymore.  It’s more like a digital swiss army knife.  I have GPS, a media player, a phone, an internet browser, a calendar, stopwatch, and thanks to the app store, a run-tracker, diet watcher (funny story about that later), and a few other things.  Ultimately, it’s handy, nothing really more than that.  I don’t have a 3G signal, well, I do if I set it on the dishwasher, so I’m stuck with Edge – thus slowing down my browsing.

 

But I find that having the entire internet – at whatever speed – in my pocket is incredibly useful.  I’m not hamstrung by the ‘kid’s table’ internet of the ‘mobile.url.com’ websites, so I have unfiltered access to recipes, wikipedia, reason.com, reuters.com, etc.  So having the entire world’s bin of information at my fingertips – at any time – well, that’s worth the price of admission right there.

 

The iPod player on it is just fantastic.  I didn’t have an ipod before this (Emily has an 80g classic), so to have some music and tv shows available for me when I’m waiting in line, cooking, or just doing something that I want some entertainment for, it’s great for that.

 

But it’s not changing my life.  Even though the email function on it is handy, the combination of keyboard and having to manually check my mail just make me not use it as often as I’d like.  Also, I have AIM on it, but that suffers from the same issue – i have to manually check to see if I have any new messages.  They don’t ‘push through’.

 

Now, I’m saying that breaks the experience for me, and I’ve read on a few places that they’re going to update those features, so it may not be an issue for long.  Also, I don’t have wifi set up here at home yet, so that may alleviate a few of these issues.  But I can tell you that it’s the best phone I’ve ever owned.  I like not having to carry around 5 things (I know some that do) to accomplish 5 tasks.  I like having this little jack-of-all-trades in my pocket.

 

The only issue I have that would keep me from recommending it would be Google.  I keep seeing updates filtering out from them on their list of things – as I’m sure you have as well.  I tell you, those boys are up to something, and we’re just seeing the smoke coming out of the chimney.  They’re in the dungeon, beakers bubbling and Bunsens burning; we are seeing the first coughs and sputters of something great, but I have the feeling we haven’t seen them ‘throw the switch’.  So when the storm starts to build, and the lightning strikes, then we may something interesting.

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