22 December 2006

Christmas Blizzard

Once again, Colorado lived up to its' reputation of changing weather in a very short period of time. Tuesday was a beautiful day, blue sky and no clouds to be seen. Then, late Tuesday night, the winds blew up and became very strong as the night progressed, reaching sustained speeds of high 20mph to low 30mph by early morning. Around 5am, the snow started falling in Colorado Springs. When I left at 5:30am, there was just a few flurries and I thought no big deal, but by the time I reached the North end of town, 10 miles from home, the snow was already covering the roads. Once I was driving north to Denver, visibility became very difficult with the high winds blowing the snow everywhere. I had to turn around at Monument (10miles north of the Springs, altitude approx. 7300 feet) as it was getting too dangerous and I didn't like the prospect of being stuck up in Denver, as this looked like it was going to be a bad storm. Thankfully, I made the right decision. The winds continued to strengthen more, sustained winds around 35-37mph and gusts hit 55mph in the Springs and it didn't stop snowing until around 1pm on Thursday.
Denver airport prides itself on rarely closing for bad weather, but this time closed down for almost two days, causing huge headaches for Chrstmas travellers, as it could be days before everyone reaches their destination.

Most businesses, schools and even the post office closed for two days too.

I have pulled a few photo's from the web, taken by residents around Colorado, enjoy.

Monument, CO
Denver, CO

Denver, CO

Fox taking shelter at a house in Monument, CO

Peyton, CO

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs, CO

Even a snow plow needs to be dug out, COS, CO

19 December 2006

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Last week, were we fortunate to go and see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra again. They tour the country each year, visiting a city for just one night, so they are mostly sold out in a short space of time. This year, myself, Denise, Zachary, Katee & Cheyenne (Kate's friend) were seated to the side of the stage, 2nd row. Without us saying a word, the organisers decided to move everyone that was seated in the first two rows of the first block. So, where did they move us, you may be thinking (or not). We hit the jackpot, we were moved to the centre of the front row! (Doug, Linda, Jerry & Sandy were green with envy, as they were a few rows back!). This became even more beneficial later in the show, when the main violinist, Anna Phoebe (she is English, so you know she is good!), came down the steps and played right at Katee & Cheyenne's feet.

The first half of the show is a Christmas story, where the band who took the audience through the complete concept album, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories." The progressive-rock took on "O Holy Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "The First Noel" added flair to the original, story-line songs "An Angel Came Down" and "The Prince of Peace."
When the band kicked into "A Mad Russian's Christmas," based on Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," any thoughts the audience may have had about a cheesy "Hooked on Classics" medley were blown to smithereens. Pitrelli's and Clark's leads cut through the mix, and the vocalists brought their own flair and style to the production.
The second half of the night featured the band just rocking away with its classically based rock jams. Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" spotlighted the vocalists and the guitarists.

The Band:

Trans-Siberian Orchestra was formed in 1996 by Paul O'Neill who immediately approached long time friends and collaborators Robert Kinkel and Jon Oliva to form the core of the writing team.

While producing and writing for a number of years with various rock groups Paul was always looking for ways to make the music have greater and greater emotional impact. He tried to write the music that was so melodic it didn't need lyrics. And lyrics that were so poetic that they didn't need music but once you put the two of them together, the sum of the parts would be greater than the whole, and you couldn't imagine them apart. Once he'd done this, he was still looking for a way to take it to even greater heights and he realized that putting the songs within the context of a story would give it a third dimension that wou ld make that additional emotional impact possible.

Hence, he started writing not just albums, but rock operas.

He realized then, that there was an inherent problem recording rock operas within the standard rock and roll band makeup. Rock operas by their nature need the voices to change as the characters change. Rock bands normally only have one (or if you're lucky) two great vocalists to work with, therefore limiting how far you can go. You're forced to make the music fit the band, as opposed to allowing the music to go wherever it needs to.

With Trans-Siberian Orchestra, first the music is created with no artificial limitations, and then we seek out within the classical, rock, Broadway and R & B worlds, the very best singers and musicians to bring each song to life. This also in many ways forces us to operate on a higher level. This environment has the additional benefit of causing a cross pollenization of musical ideas, creating hybrid forms of music that normally never would have occurred, such as an R&B singer doing a classical style melody and bringing gospel touches to it that causes it to glitter in ways that even the creators could not have predicted. Another very important aspect in the creation of the band, is that there could be no limits on the members; we mix all races and ages.
The young get to mine the experience of the old musicians, while they can't help to be inspired by the enthusiasm of people just entering the business. This has created a vast constantly changing musical group that even we do not know what it is going to do next.

Once when asked what Trans-Siberian Orchestra was about, Paul O'Neill replied, "It's about creating great art. When asked to define what great art was, Paul said, "The purpose of art is to create an emotional response in the person that is exposed to that art. And there are three categories of art; bad art, good art and great art. Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the person that is exposed to it, i.e.; a song you hear in an elevator and it does nothing to you, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as if the wall had been blank, a movie that chews up time. Good art will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad, you hear a song about love and you remember the last time you were in love. Great art will make you feel an emotion you have never felt before; seeing the pieta, the world famous sculpture by Michelangelo, can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they've never had one. And when you're trying for these emotions the easiest one to trigger is anger.

Anyone can do it. Go into the street, throw a rock at someone, you will make them angry. The emotions of love, empathy and laughter are much harder to trigger, but since they operate on a deeper level, they bring a much greater reward.

16 December 2006

What is Blu-ray?

What Is Blu-ray?
Blu-ray is a new, high-capacity format for DVD capable of storing and playing high-definition images. Using advanced technology, a Blu-ray disc is densely layered and read by a thinner laser than conventional standard DVDs. This means that a Blu-ray disc can store over five times the amount of data that a standard DVD can.

What Is the Difference Between Blu-ray and HD DVD?
Although Blu-ray and HD DVD are both high-definition media formats that rely on blue-laser technology, there are some important differences between them. The first is capacity. Because a Blu-ray player utilizes a shorter wavelength blue-violet laser than an HD DVD laser, it can focus even more closely to read more densely packed data. This allows a Blu-ray disc to have even higher capacity. A standard HD DVD can hold 15 GB per side (30 GB on a dual-layer disc), whereas Blu-ray can hold 25 GB per side (50 GB on a dual-layer disc).
The second difference is content. Several major studios and software companies are currently supporting only one of the formats, meaning that their titles may be available on DVD in only one high-definition format, either HD DVD or Blu-ray. Titles from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (including Tri-Star), Twentieth Century Fox (including MGM), Lionsgate, and Disney are on Blu-ray, while titles from Universal Pictures are releasing on HD DVD. Warner Bros., HBO, and Paramount are releasing titles in both formats.
While the two formats are not compatible with each other, they both offer vastly superior audio/video quality, extra features, and a less intrusive menu system compared to standard DVDs.

Why Is Blu-ray Better Than Standard DVD?
If you've ever seen a high-definition TV broadcast on an HDTV, then you know that an HD picture is more vivid and incredibly sharp. This stunning level of detail and resolution is impossible to reproduce on a standard DVD, which has a maximum resolution of 480p (or 480 lines). In contrast, Blu-ray has the capacity to store all of the data needed for high-definition video, so it is able to reproduce the high-definition images at a resolution of 1080p. The result is that Blu-ray brings your favorite home entertainment to life with more clarity and higher quality than ever before.
In addition, the extra disc space means there's room for significantly more content and special features. When you buy a DVD movie, you're usually not just getting the movie--you're also getting the extra features that come along with it, like director's commentary and making-of documentaries (depending on the disc, of course). With Blu-ray, there's the possibility for previously unheard-of special features. Imagine, for example, interactive content, like a director on the screen explaining the shooting of a scene while the scene is playing in the background.
Thanks to the greatly enhanced audio/video quality and additional content capability, Blu-ray is a huge step forward in the DVD viewing experience.

What Does This Mean for My Current DVD Collection?
The Blu-ray players coming out will be backward compatible and should play your current discs. The bottom line is, you can probably upgrade to a Blu-ray player and still enjoy your current DVDs. But you should double-check the particular model you are considering, just to be certain that it will play standard DVDs.

What Do I Need for Blu-ray?
To watch high-definition images, you need devices and cables that can project, receive, and transmit high-definition signals. For Blu-ray, you need an HD-compatible TV, a Blu-ray player, Blu-ray discs to watch on them, and HD-compatible cables to connect them.
HD-compatible TV Blu-ray discs support resolutions up to 1920 x 1080. However, if your TV can't display high-definition pictures, Blu-ray discs won't provide better resolution than a traditional DVD. To get a great picture, you have to have a TV that can provide that picture. Check out these
recommended HD-ready TVs for Blu-ray. Blu-ray player Blu-ray discs contain a lot more information than traditional DVDs--so much information that current DVD players can't read it all. So you need an HD DVD player that can handle all that information. Check out the Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player, and sign up to get an e-mail notice when it's available to order. Blu-ray discs Traditional DVDs may look better on an HD-compatible TV than on a lower-resolution TV, but the DVD is still not actually high resolution. You're just seeing more of the available resolution than you could on a lower-resolution TV. And a Blu-ray player may up-convert a traditional DVD--that is, increase its resolution so it looks better on a higher-resolution screen. But for truly high-resolution images from a DVD, you need Blu-ray discs formatted with the dense new layering in the Blu-ray format. Blu-ray discs contain much more information than traditional DVDs, and they have other benefits, too. HD-compatible cables So you've got a Blu-ray player, an HD-compatible TV, and Blu-ray discs. But you're not quite ready to go. Make sure you've got the most basic component of a good home theater: the right cables. Just like DVD players and TVs, cables support different levels of resolution. And you need cables that support high-definition images. If both your TV and DVD player support HDMI, we recommend Monster Cable HDMI 400 cables. If your TV or DVD player supports only component video, try Monster Cable THX V100 cables, certified by audio giant THX.

What Else Is Recommended?
While you can get a high-definition picture on your TV with a Blu-ray player and HD-compatible cables, a few more components can truly enhance your high-definition home theater experience. We recommend a power-protection device and a high-quality home theater system.
Power-protection device Ordinary AC power accessories may not block power surges or electromagnetic interference from other devices, so they can compromise the quality of the components they power. We recommend Monster Cable PowerCenter
HTS 3500 or HTS 800 to protect your components. Monster Cable's exclusive Clean Power filter circuitry reduces the noise that goes right through typical surge protectors. You get high-quality picture and sound that's free from performance-reducing interference. Home theater system Blu-ray discs can contain enhanced audio as well as video. Blu-ray players usually support various audio formats, like Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS-HD. A high-quality home theater system can bring out the improved fidelity and sonic realism of DVD soundtracks. The Denon S-301 and S-101 2.1-channel home theater systems offer great sound and looks for your new high-definition system. Don't forget to get some high-quality audio cables, too, so your audio quality matches your video quality.