Sunday, February 24, 2008

Flight - Part 2

Superman's first screen appearance was the cartoon series by Max Fleischer. This was early enough that Superman didn't quite fly. He made tall leaps (and single bounds).

A Superman serial from the 1950s was shot in live action but when Superman flew the actor was replaced with an animated figure who zipped back and forth. I think that this was to maximize screen time for the flight which was never more than a second or two, anyway.

Hanna-Barberra did a long-running version of Superman but used limited animation. Most of the flying was with a fixed cell of Superman while the background moved.

When Chris Reeve took over the roll, he just floated up (up and away). The more recent Superman and Justice League cartoons did the same as did Superman Returns.

When John Byrne remade Superman in the 1980s, he said that he thought of many of Superman's power as some form of psychic power. He didn't actually use X-rays to see through objects, he used ESP. He didn't melt things with heat from his eyes, he used telepyronics. While he was tough, much of Superman's invulnerability came from a personal force field (which covered his suit but not his cape). By this reasoning he doesn't exactly fly, he levitates himself.

This would explain how Superman can carry things that should break apart. In the first movie Superman takes Lois flying. She appears to fly at arm's length. This is consistent with Superman flying psychically. If he was propelling himself by any normal means then Lois would have been trailing behind due to air friction. If he levitates himself and what ever he touches then Lois could easily fly at arm's length.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's a Bird! It's a Plane!

Kids ask a lot of questions and I was pretty observant as a kid so I noticed several things when watching George Reeves' Adventures of Superman.

Superman could fly but he didn't just float away, he took a running start and leaped into the sky. Sometimes it was a long run. I remember one episode where he was inside a suburban house. He ran out the front door, across the yard, turned onto the sidewalk, then jumped into the air.

It was the same when he landed. He didn't float to the ground, he landed with a thump.

There were a couple of times that he did take straight off. When he did that it whipped up a wind that blew stray paper around.

When he was flying it was accompanied by a whooshing sound that could be heard a long way off. Often Lois heard it and had to figure out how to attract Superman's attention.

Put together, this gives us a reasonable model for how Superman flies, something the comic never did. It works if you think of an airplane or missile. It would appear that Superman had a stall speed. He didn't flitter around like Tinkerbell. He had to have forward motion to fly. His running and jumping was similar to a plane getting up airspeed, or at least running to get a kite in the air. When he landed, he couldn't break completely. He lost as much speed as he could by flying and used his legs as super shock absorbers.

I have an interesting explanation for how he actually flew without some sort of propellant. He must have manipulated the air, possibly using a static charge across his skin. That would explain why he needed to be moving in the first place, why he kicked up a windstorm, and why his flight was accompanied by a loud whoosh. It also explains why he couldn't just hover and descend slowly. He had to keep up the amount of air moving past his body and there just wasn't enough when he slowed down. The best example I can think of for this is driving up a muddy hill. If you keep your speed up you can make it but if you slow down you can't get enough traction and you start spinning.

Could Superman carry someone while charged? Yes, as long as they didn't touch anything else. The passenger would gain a static charge but with nothing but air around, there would be no place for the charge to go. As Superman cut his charge in preparation for landing, he would reabsorb it slowly enough that he wouldn't shock his passenger.

I can see two problems with this. Superman didn't always fly in the air. At least once he left the atmosphere to stop an oncoming meteor. He also propelled himself through the water. The meteor I can explain - he reached top speed while in the atmosphere and let inertia carry him the rest of the way. He was only able to deflect the meteor with a collision, not push it away which is consistent. The recoil from striking a huge rock bounced him back to earth.

Flying under water is harder to explain. Maybe he was actually swimming, kicking his feet so fast that it didn't show.

Of course, the real explanations are a lot less interesting. The original plan was to use wires and a flying harness but a wire broke early in the production and Steve Reeves refused to use a flying harness again. When he jumped it was onto an off-screen cushion. When he landed he was swinging on camera from an off-screen bar. The whooshing was a carry-over from the radio show which had to use something to let listeners know when Superman was flying.

The few times that they did use a flying harness they used a fan for the wind. I have no idea why they used it but it adds a nice tie-in with my theory.

Strange how it all worked together to suggest a real means of flight. This is something that none of the other versions of Superman have done.

I'll have more about superhero flight in later posts.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nokia N800 continued

So, I've had my Nokia N800 for a week and a half. How do I like it now that I've used it more?

In general I'm more impressed than before. Except for a couple of web sites that stream tv shows, it has worked with every web site I've tried. For example, I was able to watch streaming video of a London fire from the BBC.

Movies that I have ripped from.DVD look fairly good. The frame rate is a bit lower than TV -I would guess 20 fps instead if 30- but youu have to look hard to notice it. Very busy shots can look a bit pixalated, for example, a motorcycle jumping a fire with firewoorks going off. Normal scenes look very detailed. This is pretty good when you remember that the screen resolutioned is higher than a TV. YouTube videos always look as good as on a fast pc.

I'm getting used to entering through a stylus. In fact, I'm writing this on the N800.

The N800 is best for casual web browsing which is what I wanted it for. I can have it close at hand in stand-by mode and available at need. The next time I go someplace for a weekend I will probably just take the N800 and leave my laptop home.

Battery life while it is being used could be better - its better than a laptop but nothing like my Sansa View.

There is a growing library lf free software available. Some it is very dated but still fun. You can play Doom or Quake or Monkey Island on it.

Most of the software installs with on click. Removing it is similarly easy. You just select the program through the Control Panel and click the Uninstall button.

There are some things I would like. The stylus is shorter than I care for. Right now I'm using one from an old Palm Pilot which is better.

It would be nice if the media player and PDF viewers had an option to resume. I have some books in PDF and I have to remember what page I was on. The same thing happens if I am watching a movie over more than one day. This is one factor that limits it as a dedicated media player.

The battery meter sucks. The estimated charge constantly changes up and down. For example, when I started this it showed 6 hours of "in use" time left. Now it shows 3 hours. I guarantee I have not used this 3 hours so far today.

Google maps does not work well with the browser. When I bring it up it resizes the map to take up a set portion of the screen which is too small to be useful. This is Google's fault and there is a free mapping utility that uses Google maps so I'm not map-less, but still...

The on screen keypad works better than I expected. It's not as fast as touch typing but I wrote this review with it. If you really want a keyboard you have several options. One is the higher-priced N810. You can also use a bluetooth keyboard or a usb keyboard connected through an OTG (on the go) cable.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Review: Nokia n800

I bought a Nokia n800 on EBay last week. This is an "Internet Tablet" meaning that it has WiFi and a built-in browser.

The n800 is based on Linux although the operating system is well-hidden from the casual user. It comes with the original release, OS2007, installed. There is an update called OS2008.

I only got a fleeting impression of OS2007. You have to charge the battery before upgrading so I used the earlier operating system while I waited for it to charge.

OS2007 uses the Opera browser. Other reviews said that it didn't render video very well. I checked YouTube and found that this was true.

The upgrade was easy. The instructions say that it takes 20 minutes but it seemed more like 10 before it was ready.

The n800 comes with very little memory but it has slots for two memory cards. I put in a couple of 2 meg cards. The manual warns that it is not compatable with all cards but it didn't have any trouble with the off-brand ones I used.

There was no question that the upgrade took. OS2008 has a different look. It also uses a browser based on Mozilla Firefox.

One pleasant surprise is that the problems with movies are fixed in OS2008. I've tried YouTube, videos that I have previously downloaded and converted, and some movies that I have ripped from DVD. All play perfectly (note - it takes special software to rip DVDs).

The n800 features a large touch screen. It is larger and has a higher number of bits per inch than the iPod Touch. The resolution is 800x480 - more than twice an many pixels as the iPod.

While you can get by using your fingernails, the n800 comes with a stylus. It also has two sets of navigation buttons on the front. I have barely used these. It has buttons on the top for zooming in and out and a button to toggle the current application to full screen.

The browser works quite well. I've checked several sites and they all render properly. You do have to scroll around a bit and zoom in on smaller text. This is easy enough.

You have three options for entering text. If you touch the stylus to a text field then a stylus type pad appears at the bottom of the screen. One of the navigation buttons opens a finger type pad with larger buttons. You can also print letters although this takes some practice.

OS2008 comes with several other applications including a usable media player and a PDF viewer. Other applications can be installed for free from Nokia's web site. Some of these enable features in the b800.

The n800 comes with a low-resolution, pop-out camera. By default this is set up for video conferencing but you can download programs to take pictures. It also has an FM radio which is enabled by a program.

Open source software has been ported from other platforms. I loaded ScummVM which lets me play classic LucasArts games like Monkey Island. Doom has also been ported.

The n800 is Bluetooth enabled. If you have a Bluetooth phone then it can use it to connect to the Internet and can take over as the phone's handset.

So, how does it compare with the iPod Touch? The two are very similar but they have different focuses. The iPod is a media player that can also access the Internet. Not all web sites work with the iPod and you are very restricted on what you can copy to it.

The n800 is an Internet device that also plays media. It is bigger and heavier than I want a media player to be and the interface isn't as good for playing music. For example, it doesn't support album art.

On the other hand, it does not need web applications to be written for it. Also that larger screen is nice when viewing movies.

The biggest difference is in the attitude of the manufacturers. Apple keeps total control over the iPod Touch and the iPhone. In contrast, Nokia already has a full development kit. It even has a command prompt as part of the operating system, something that Apple keeps disabling.

Between the larger screen and the amount of control that Nokia gives you over the device, I would rate the n800 higher. Those who prefer Apple's cool factor will be happier with the iPod.

UPDATE: I did find a couple of web sites that do not work on the n800. These are ones that do streaming video through Real Player or MicroSoft's Media Player. Sites that stream through Flash work fine.