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Summer about Victoria 2011 At the digital cinema · 12.08.11 by colin newell

We visited Cineplex Odeon Westshore cinemas 900 2945 Jacklin Rd in Langford for “Cowboys and Aliens” featuring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.
It’s a Western. And it’s a Science fiction story – two of my favorite genres.

But this is not a movie review.

It is a technology review.

I have not spent a lot of time rambling on the subject of the transition from film projection to digital – there are a lot of people in the industry and in consumer World that bark like otters about this evolution.

My opinion differs slightly.
Starters, modern theaters are too freaking loud. I am clearly middle aged and I pack ear plugs with me to Silver City (and to a lesser extent the other theaters) – because the sound is too loud and it gives me a sonic headache in short order.

It astounds me the number of people that bring children to these noisy shows who have ears that are significantly more sensitive than mine.
Bottom line: Go to any of these shows and you are permanently degrading your hearing and the future of your ability to hear quiet sounds in the future.
But don’t take me word for it.

Digital projection. Cineplex Odeon raves about their ability to download and project digital movies – the savings over film are staggering – and guess what? The savings are passed directly on to the stakeholders at Cineplex Odeon – not the consumers.
There was a time, when film was king, that the only way a theater could make any money was with the concession goods; the absurd lake-sized drinks and waste barrel capacity popcorn selections could set you back a mortgage payment if you were treating the entire family.

The food prices are still stupid but now there is money to be made with the technology. Because it is simpler. And being a person who designs and builds labs and classrooms at a University and actually helps maintain a movie theater (UVic’s venerable Cinecenta [I have worked on the digital and film cinema side of the house]), I know how much stuff costs. And Cineplex Odeon is making a killing on the savings as it were.

And as much as “industry” would like us to believe that digital cinema is “awesome” and sparkles like a jewel – it doesn’t. It is not capable of it. My home Sony blu-ray and LED back-lit Bravia flat screen TV is as capable of showing spectacular video, with breathtaking surround audio. Digital projection onto giant screens has some fundamental flaws – lack of contrast and muted, often dreary color – and jittery scene transitions.

I know this sounds like a bit of a whine. I do come from an old-school movie viewing population where 35MM and 70MM film (and IMAX) was king. My feeling is, the technology is moving forward at a good clip – but it is simply not there yet.

But don’t take me word for it.

Today we drove from Victoria East (Rockland area) to the West Shore cinemas for a Friday matinee – taking surface roads would have made much more sense – The Island highway was inching forward from Tillicum to the Millstream exit – pretty sad. But it was Friday at 3:30 in the afternoon. We made it to the theater with 9 minutes to spare. Would we go again? I would still like to have the “AVX” experience… whatever that is – if the right movie comes along.

Today’s movie was in Cinema 4 – 200 seats maybe… there were, perhaps, 12 people in attendance. Matinee after all.
Final thought. I love the movie going experience. I think it is important for people to get out to movies – to support the economy, develop some social skills as well, eat out and such – especially important for young people and children.

Anyway – enough from me… and enjoy the show!

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Victoria Spring 2011 - Ham Radio in the 21st Century · 18.04.11 by colin newell

ICOM 703+ All Band Ham TransceiverAs much as I wonder, some times, what I did before the internet (and I am not alone on the sentiment obviously…) – I often wonder what I did before radio was a big part of my life.

Because it was at the age of 12 that a boy friend of my older sister handed me a multiband radio to play with for a few days. It had AM. It had FM. And something called “SW”. And Police Band. Double whammy there. Never heard of SW really – and that I could listen to Police and Fire calls on a radio kind of blew my mind.

Photo above right – The ICOM 703+ All Mode Transceiver keeps me in touch with the world…

Those first few sounds on the “SW” dial are forever etched in my mind – other Worldly, mysterious, cryptic… and the languages; English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese.
I was aware that my pocket sized AM radio was capable of picking up Los Angeles and Denver from my perch on Vancouver Island… but foreign languages? This was wild – and it was one of those moments that I knew would change the way I saw things… forever.

Within a few months my Dad bought be an RCA radio from the late 30’s – that had tubes in it – and SW bands – that worked as well or better than the cheap transistor radio that I had been introduced to. Before long I learned the importance of an outdoor antenna – even if it was a random piece of wire or series of coat hangers strapped together with bailing wire – it all worked. That old radio was pressed into pretty hard service for an antique that had probably anticipated a quiet retirement. And I kind of ran it into the ground with constant listening.

After it died, I built a new radio from a kit from Radio Shack – it allowed me to pick up all the regulars, the Short wave broadcasters that I came to rely on for wildly dissimilar views of my own – Like Radio Beijing and Radio Moscow – but now something called “Ham Radio” – a special circuit in this radio receiver afforded several modes of reception that were heretofore unavailable; Morse code and strange sounding “Single Sideband” reception — an odd off frequency duck sounding chatter that only became intelligible when the dial was adjusted just so.

30 plus years later and I am in the digital age with the Transceiver unit shown above – a product from the company Icom that covers most frequencies of interest and all modes of transmission from SSB (Single Side Band) to AM and FM and Morse code — and more beyond that.

It has a transmitter power of 10 watts – which does not seem like much (and It isn’t) but I have direct conversations from other “Hams” all around North and South America, the Pacific (Tahiti) and New Zealand. Amazing considering that radio energy leaves my balcony mounted radio antennas, bounces around the atmosphere a few times (hitting something 75 to 150 miles up called the Ionosphere) and lands where it lands… thousands of miles away. Amazing.

This weekend I spoke with a Boy Scout troop leader and his charges of young cub adventurers near San Capistrano at their camp site, the U.S.S. Wisconsin Amateur radio club in Virginia celebrating their battleships 67th birthday and a variety of radio operators all around North America.

You might say that Ham Radio is the Worlds first modern form of social networking – and the reality is, you never know exactly what is going to happen or who you are going to talk to when you switch the radio on. Yes, it is an interesting hobby, but it also serves as a valuable public service. In the event of a national disaster or regional crisis, Ham radio serves as a back up grid for the internet, cell phone and traditional telephone communications.

This afternoon I explained some of the principles of Amateur Radio to a young lady that works in my lab at UVic – I think I gave some good answers because she fired some really good questions at me and did not fall asleep listening to the replies.

Yea, it is complicated – but it is not outrageously so that it is out of reach of anyone enthusiastic enough to tackle it – An amateur radio license requires an exam from a certified government examiner; an exam that is as much about technical procedures as it is about some basic electronics. You can do it – yes you can… and be a part of a fascinating hobby and public service.


Colin Newell lives and works in Victoria B.C. Canada – holds the Amateur radio call sign VA7WWV

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Happy St. Patricks Day 2011 as best you can · 17.03.11 by colin newell

Colin on St. Patricks Day - see the green?

Not entirely sure there is any green in this jacket…

Click on the photo at left for the slightly bigger view – Thanks to British Importers for these fine threads – and even though you have changed your name to the egocentric Philip Nyren Clothing you will always be British Importers.

What do you think? Any green in the jacket? No, me neither.

283 years ago, some guy distantly related to me got out of bed in Cork, Ireland – packed his bags, got on a boat and never looked back. He would turn out to be my great, great, great – several more, great grandfather. Irish? Heck yes. Determined to make a better life in North America. Fingers crossed. Apparently things worked out because he found a mate and part of my family tree branched out.

So I celebrate a little green today.

On St. Patrick’s day 2011 – If you would have told me a few days ago that I would be spending all of my time thinking about Japan and the hazards of the nuclear era, I would have questioned your sanity.
Yet here we are.

The word trifecta would not have been in my dialogue a few days ago either – not being a gambling man.

And yet here we are; Earthquake, Tsunami and meltdown.
Loss of life. Loss of home. Loss of confidence.

Nor would I have looked up the meaning of millicieverts and found it rolling around in my brain after determining how many are OK and how many make you sick – and what life must be like for so many people trapped, homeless and no place to go.

These good people need you now – So do what you can folks. Give to the Red Cross. Help out Japan.

And stay safe.


From Victoria B.C. Canada on the West Coast of North America… I am Colin Newell.

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The Baratza Preciso grinder first look - Fall 2010 · 19.09.10 by colin newell

Baratza Preciso Coffee Grinder First Look Coffeecrew.comBased on our their popular grinder – the Baratza Virtuoso, the Preciso adds extra precision and control to the great basic features of the Virtuoso.

This article on the Baratza Preciso grinder is unfolding as you watch! Watch for changes and additions to this blog over the next week!

Baratza’s coffee diva, Kyra and design engineer Kyle of Baratza were kind enough to entrust me with a sample Preciso for an intense look see – We are in the first few days of play so this article will unfold as this week comes and goes. Check in often!

Photo above right: We were pumped to receive a Preciso to give it the no-holds-barred coffeecrew.com tear-apart and abuse until it bursts review… and there are lots of good things to report!

Like the Virtuoso, the new Preciso retains the 40 grind adjustment steps of the Virtuoso, but a second micro adjustment lever further divides each of the 40 steps into 11 distinct settings. This was a much needed feature for serious espresso enthusiasts because with the Virtuoso’s more limited range of steps, one had to depend on their other skills for nailing the perfect grind and tamp.

Smaller steps (in this case 11 sub-settings for every regular click on the Preciso) means you have more control over your espresso grind, enabling you to pull that perfect shot.

The Preciso retains all the range and durability of the beloved Virtuoso. It really is the ideal grinder for folks who like to mix it up with French press, Aeropress, drip and all the other methods. And if you use a couple of different methods (like I do) it is now way easier to zero in on that sweet spot.

Operationally, the Preciso has the same timer and pulse button that the Virtuoso employs.

We have some photos of the Preciso over here in the photo gallery – more coming too!

The Preciso’s professional grade 40mm conical burrs produce a consistent, fine grind which is critical for all the grind ranges from espresso through French press. I am constantly mixing it up in my lab so the Preciso’s inherent flexibility pays off for stress free grinding batch for batch.

The front mounted pulse On/Off button allows you to grind directly into your espresso brew portafilter and an optional portafilter holder makes dosing a snap. The 60-second timer is perfect for grinding my regular “full batch” for my Newco OCS-8 and OCS-12 drip brewer. The Newco’s and the Preciso are the perfect team – then again, it works well with my collection of French press brewers

The Preciso’s large 8-oz. hopper and a 5-oz. removable anti static ground coffee bin are standard equipment – exactly like the Virtuoso.

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Summer Fun Food and Drink - Techo addiction - Chapter 23 · 6.09.10 by colin newell

depending on too much of the same technology? Call home!I have a pretty sassy old mom… in her 80’s and as spry as a UVic rabbit dodging a Jack Russell terrier.

Was wowing her with an internet radio that I am testing out. Maybe you have seen them. They look like radios. They pick up a WiFi connection and can spit out 15,000 radio stations.

For most people, it is a 99 channel Universe – especially for those of us who live in urban areas. My wife and I have a digital Shaw cable account that is wrapped with broadband internet. Works pretty well for us. Not always reliable as gravity but I have few complaints about the service. If you pick up the phone and call for help, chances are you are going to speak to some young person in the Victoria area. That speaks volumes for customer service.

Anyway – I am digressing.

My mom goes back to the days of radio. Where there was nothing but radio… and direct dial rotary phones. Where a long distance phone call would cost you bucks based on distance. Unlike today where you can call Mars for about 9 cents a minute.

So she has seen it all. But was immensely impressed with the fact that I could call up a Stereo FM quality radio signal from anywhere on the Planet — via the miracle of the internet of course.

In the space of 5 minutes we were “tuning” in St. Johns Newfoundland, the Vatican, France, the BBC and then back to CBC Radio 1 Victoria.

As my mom also knows, I am a radio guy from a long time ago – at 12 years of age I was building shortwave radios and dabbling in Ham radio. So, through some degree of osmosis, she has soaked in some of this legacy technology.

Fact is, in 2010, we have come to really depend on the leading edge technologies; cell phones, internet, internet phones, iPhones, blackberries, portable PC’s and Macs that depend on a stable broadband connection… that are totally centralized. And where this is a problem is, when there is a power failure, local brown out or, God forbid, a “mass coronal ejection” from the Sun… We could be entirely dead in the water as far as communications are concerned. Under the right conditions we could not even talk across the street – much less connect to a police station or hospital.

Our highways are much like that. Cut one big link and we are screwed.
And do not get me wrong – I am not offering any solutions. Just making an observation.

Like dear old Mom did when she asked…
“This internet radio does not work by itself does it? It is not picking up all these stations out of the air is it? You have another piece of hardware in the home, yes?”

Her words exactly.

My internet and digital connection is a pretty massive and fragile lifeline.

It’s a good thing that I am a licensed ham radio operator capable of helping dig out from a natural disaster and aiding in coordinating communications in the event of…

You get the point.
My advice is: Be prepared with alternatives. An emergency kit is a good start. And a battery powered traditional radio to hear what’s going on.
The rotary dial phone? Sorry. Cannot help you there.

Be safe.

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