Monday, June 18, 2007

Mistake University - An Education Like No Other

This was a timed writing. The prompt was: "Write an essay of explanation (300 - 500 words)in which you explain to the reader your academic plans for the next two or three years. Be sure to include in your explanation not only your goals during this time, but the means or strategies you have of achieving those goals. Write your essay to an audience of prospective students who may benefit from your planning and motivation for achieving higher education."

I wanted to take it a different direction, but, because this was a school assignment, had to answer the prompt. So, here it is. I was given 4 hours to complete this; I did it in 2:39. I scored 92/100

When it comes to getting a college education, perhaps someone can learn more from my mistakes than from the things I've actually done right. I know many other twenty- and thirty-somethings, in my situation: Blessed with an aptitude for computers and technology, and thus have been able to build a fairly successful ten-year career without the aid of a post-secondary education. Until now.

Recently I've found that my career--and income potential--is limited from real advancement. What's holding me back? That rite of passage into the "professional" world: the Degree. Oh, sure, I can keep doing what I'm doing, and maybe, if I'm lucky, get a raise here and there, but more than likely, my value to employers will actually decrease as I age. I've finally figured out that in order for me to get ahead, I need to get an education.

At this point, I've only planned as far as obtaining an Associates of Science degree by the end of next year. I started taking online classes through the community college last fall, and I plan on continuing that pattern until I finish my A.S. A full load of twelve units per semester (four classes) is too big of a burden for this working student, but nine units is doable. With the few classes I've taken at other institutions included as transfer credits, I should easily be able to obtain my two-year degree early next year.

My long term educational "goals" can hardly be called goals--they've always been more like dreams. I have had the notion for many years that I would become a robotics engineer. To that end, I plan on getting a Bachelor's Degree in Electronic or Computer Engineering--or both. Also, because of my recent work as a technical instructor--truly the best and most enjoyable job I've ever had--I now want to get a Teaching Certificate as well. To advance in either field, robotics or education, I will need to earn at least a Bachelor's degree, and will probably also need to do some post-graduate work. I haven't yet figured out any details as to which university I will attend to attain such a degree--the "figuring-out" will probably come later this year. The B.S. will likely take me at least another two years to complete.

I wish that I had done all this long before now. It would have been easier to get a degree when I was younger, before I made too much money to qualify for grants, before I had a family, and before I had to worry about being a responsible adult. But, I can't turn back the clock. I've learned from my mistakes and I'm working now toward an education.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Format War

This isn't one of my better works, but I turned it in. I scored 92/100. I really wanted to go into much greater detail than 300-500 words would allow--I already hit over 900 words. This is by no means a comprehensive look at the current format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD. It is simply an explanation that there is a format war, and what it's about.

Nearly 25 years ago American consumers were first given the possibility of affordably keeping a library of movies and watching them at home. VCRs and video cassettes had become cheap enough that the average American household could start building a collection of video tapes containing major release movie titles. But they faced a decision whether to use VHS or Betamax video tape format. By the late 1980's the format war was over. Betamax was no longer a competitor and the VHS format had won by a landslide.

In 1996, the DVD was born (Taylor). The advantages that DVDs offered over the VHS video tapes were so great that in only five years DVD players were outselling VCRs (Equinox). Consumers replaced their prized collections of movies on VHS for the same titles--and more--on DVD.

With the recent advent of High-Definition television (Hi-Def or HD for short) came the demand for Hi-Def video discs. Hi-Def videos use anywhere between four and sixteen times the amount of data as Standard Definition video (the ordinary TV quality video we've been watching for decades). With the increased requirements from Hi-Def, our beloved DVDs won't be able to handle feature-length movies. Consumers are now being offered two competing discs to replace DVDs. As a result, we're facing the format war all over again, this time with two different discs: Blu-ray and HD-DVD.

In June 2007, we're still in the heat of the format war that began roughly five years ago. Sony, with the support of several other companies, created the Blu-ray Disc format (abbreviated BD), so named because of the blue laser used in reading the discs. The HD DVD format (which also uses a blue laser) was created primarily by Toshiba. The two companies are in a game of leapfrog, making improvements to their formats. In one example, the HD DVD format was first standardized with a maximum storage capacity of 15 Gigabytes (GB). Shortly thereafter, Sony touted that Blu-ray offered a capacity of 25 GB. Toshiba countered by doubling the capacity of the HD DVD format with new double-layer technology to 30 GB. Sony reacted and, using the same technology, doubled the Blu-ray format to 50GB, where it stands today. Recently, Toshiba retaliated by announcing triple-layer technology that will be used to push the HD DVD discs up to 51 GB. And on it goes.

Both sides know that the moment there is a clear leader, that lead will turn into a landslide. But, determining which format is winning is hotly debated. Each side spouts statistics trying to show the world that their format is the winner in this war, but the stats don't necessarily represent the truth. The numbers are handpicked and spin-doctored to give the impression of victory. One side will state that it's winning by the quantity of movie titles released under its format, and the other will show that it's leading with the number of discs purchased for their format. One side will proclaim itself the victor in the total number of players sold, and the other will counter with statistics showing more players sold for the current year. And the numbers are constantly changing from month to month, quarter to quarter.

An article by Martin Lynch in The Inquirer from June 7th, 2007 is a good example of how confusing and volatile this horse race is. "Figures from March estimate that Sony shipped 5.5 million [PlayStation 3] consoles [with Blu-ray players] by March, but has only sold over three million of them." (Lynch). Lynch goes on to explain that a recent announcement by a Toshiba exec has the potential to launch HD DVD ahead of Blu-ray: starting in "2008, every Toshiba laptop will sport a HD DVD drive as standard....IDC estimated that Toshiba sold 9.2 million laptops in 2006," (Lynch) which should equate to putting somewhere near 10 million HD DVD players in the hands of consumers by the end of 2008--just from Toshiba laptops, not counting stand alone HD DVD players. The article doesn't mention that Sony may return the blow and add Blu-ray drives as standard to Sony Vaio laptops.

It doesn't look like there will be a winner anytime soon. Early adopters and videophiles may want to pick their favorite format and root for their team, but it's risky at this date, for the average consumer to jump in on the side of one format or the other. Combo players (players that work with both formats) are available so that consumers can get the benefits of Hi-Def video now without waiting to see which disc format wins. Combo players, however, are still beyond the budget of most of us. The safe route is to wait and see who wins the format war before ditching your collection of DVDs for the next big thing. Who knows, the way it looks now, maybe these two sides will keep battling it out, and in a year or two there will be another upstart technology that beats them both.

Sources Cited:
Taylor, Jim DVD Demystified "DVD Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers)" Jan 2007. Viewed June 2007

Equinox (user alias) Movie-List "Movie-List Forums" “DVD: A Quick History and Facts” December 2002. Viewed June 2007

Lynch, Martin The Inquirer "HD DVD has a secret weapon: Toshiba drops a bomb" June 7, 2007

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Self-Education in Digital Video Cameras

The camcorder has come a long way in the last ten years. Unless you've been paying close attention to the technology's progress, it's easy to get lost. Even I, a self-proclaimed geek, found myself in over my head when I recently went shopping for a new video camera. I'm not usually the type to slap down a half grand on a whim--I need to know what sort of bang I'm getting for my buck. While I would have loved to take a semester of Digital Video Cameras 101, my school didn't seem to offer that class. So I started my own self-study. I set out on the web to learn the fundamentals of the new technologies, get some information on specific models, and figure out how much I would have to pay for one of these fancy new gadgets.

I first checked out, "your easy guide to reviews and ratings of camcorders". There are several tutorial pages on the site including a fantastic Beginners Guide. The guide covered the important aspects of digital camcorders, including important concepts, intended use, and useful featuers. Another helpful article on the site was "Top 10 Things You Should Know When Buying a Camcorder." It clearly explained many things I had not considered, but made sense. There were also other articles discussing the "how-to's" of specific features, but those wouldn't help me until after I had a video camera in my hands. I had learned the basics and was ready for the next step. also has a page for rating the digital video cameras they've tested. This served as a jumping-off point for researching specific models. There were links to exhaustive reviews that detailed the performance of the important features. The reviews were all well written and informative.

I was also interested in reading reviews from other owners of some of the specific camcorders that ranked well and were in my price range. So, I pointed my browser to, where there are many "amatuer" owner-reviewers posting thier experiences, commentaries, and recommendations. Some of the reviews brought up factors that had not been discussed in the "professional" review from easycamcorders. The combination of the "professional" reviews from easycamcorders and the "amatuer" reviews on amazon were helpful in narrowing down my list of candidates to just three models I would be happy with. The only remaining factor was price.

Ordinarily, I would scour the web for the lowest possible price and order online. I usually use, and, two different product and price search engines. I also compare prices for electronics on,,, and But in this particular instance, time was of the essence and I needed to get the device in the same weekend. This time I headed to the local Fry's Electronics to purchase the video camera. My final bit if research was pacing up and down the aisles, trying to find any of the models on my list, and then comparing prices. I found two of the three, and purchased the cheaper one.

There were no textbooks or quizzes for my self-study Digital video Camera course, but there was a final exam: purchase a camcorder that you can be happy with. My grade? I got an A.