This May be a Stupid Question But…

I hear this all the time on forums and in email when helping folks: This may be a stupid question but... When I was young my mother would promptly correct me “There are no stupid questions”. If you haven’t guessed, my mom was a teacher. By college I was trained never to add that to my questions. With the constant use of “this is a stupid question but…” still happening in America, it made me think about it.

Is there a stupid question?

Applying logic, as I always do, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to have a stupid question. Think about it, you’ll find that answered questions cannot be stupid since they have answers and unanswered questions cannot be determined to be stupid.

The only one who can determine if a question is stupid is the person asking the question. Obviously anyone willing to ask questions will not value their thirst for knowledge as stupid.

There are stupid answers!

Sometimes answers are answered in a way that makes us feel stupid. If someone has the tenacity to answer a question and also claim that the question is stupid, think twice about the answer given as well as the person giving it.

Perhaps the smartest questions are those that are unanswered or cannot be answered.

What is stupid is not seeking the answer to a question.

Early Spring Home Improvements

It’s not quite spring time but the lack of snow got me motivated to fix some of the little things that have been on my honey-to-do list.

Fireplace and HVAC Vents

The HVAC and Fireplace vents were long over due for replacement. They were cracked/damaged when we bought the house, and this winter took them to their end of life. It was one of those chores I kept putting off because I couldn’t find the appropriate vents at Lowes/Home Depot when I’ve visited for other needs. This past week I went to 4 stores including The Andersons, Lowes and Home Depot specifically for these vents and had no luck. Out of desperation I went to Menards and thankfully they had them and for 1/2 the price than the dryer vents at the other stores! All the other stores sell only outlet vents, primarily for dryers. The inlet allows for fresh outside air to be drawn into the house for specific reasons, so having a dryer vent that closes when air is drawn inward is not going to work.

The great thing about the vent pictured is that it’s shallow. This means the lawn mower isn’t going to run into it and crack it like the last vent.

Screen Door Damage

The screen door has seen a lot of battles with the dog and the cat, but this past fall Ty rammed through the screen after some creature in the back yard and the screen door hasn’t been the same since. Last week I saw a repair kit at Home Depot for re-screening the screen door. I thought “I’m rebuilding an engine, this can’t be that nearly as complicated”. Sure enough, replacing the screen in a screen door is pretty easy. I would say though that patience is needed, taking your time will give you a finished product to be proud of. I was told getting a screen door re-screened can cost between $50-100. The kit cost less than $9 and took about 45 minutes to install.

LED Bulb for Front Porch

The porch light is one of those light fixtures I seem to visit way more often that I care to. Two weeks ago I picked up a Home Depot house brand (40 Watt equivelant) 7 watt LED bulb for the front porch. Even though the box says “For indoor use only”, I figured for $10, I’ll give it a try on the porch. It works great, though the light is more directional than a typical bulb, it serves the purpose of lighting up the porch perfectly. I now know why these bulbs are for indoor use only, freezing temperatures. From what I’ve observed, when the weather is below freezing, the light does not come on. As long as the light bulb lasts a few years, I’ll live without porch light on cold winter nights.

My Enthusiasm for Pontiac Continues

Trans AmIf you’ve talked about cars with me in recent months, you know I’m in the process of restoring a 1981 Trans Am. I bought the car knowing the motor needed rebuilt or replaced. Last fall I picked up a Pontiac 400 V8 (more specifically, a W72 from a 77 Trans Am with the transmission and carburetor, the W72 is arguably the last great V8 designed by Pontiac engineers).

Since about October, I’ve been doing a lot of research on Pontiac V8’s built from 1955-1982, as well as other research specific to the mid to late 1970’s Firebirds. I quickly found that I have about 30 significant web sites I now visit to read about Pontiac engine specifics, as well as about a dozen or so vendors who sell Pontiac specific parts. I also have accumulated over 200 bookmarks. the process has lead me to become rather frustrated. There’s lots of great information, but it’s all over the place and no one has a really good site map to all of these sites. Out of this frustration I am going to launch a new web site that will link to everything I’ve bookmarked. Stay tuned for an official announcement when the site is launched.

Aside from the Pontiac site-map web site I have planned, I’m also going to launch a video podcast of all the work I do on the car. Expect an announcement on that sometime this month as well.

The Details

My original plan was to freshen up the 400 I picked up last fall and drop it into the Trans Am. After stripping the top end of the motor down I discovered a lot of rust in the top of the heads and a lot of sludge in the oil pan. At this point it became obvious I would need to tear the motor down further.

In October, I finally got the motor further apart and found a lot of carbon build-up on the pistons, and I also found during the break down that an exhaust manifold stud was broken inside of the drivers side head. I reluctantly decided then I needed to take at least the heads to a machine shop. After further dis-assembly, I decided it would be worth the money to have the motor completely rebuilt.

I decided to take the heads, block and crank to Kauffman Racing Equipment located here in Ohio. They did a great job and kept me updated through the entire process.

Over Christmas I got a few books and a video on engine rebuilding. After reading the books and watching the video I decided that I (Yes I) will rebuild this motor myself! I was able to take it apart, I should be able to put it all back together, right? Following this decision, I’ve done the following:

  • Researched and purchased torque wrenches (I will have a detailed post about my research in the coming months)
  • Researched and purchased other specific tools (caliper, feeler gauge, bore gauge, plasti-gauge)
  • Researched and purchased specific books on Pontiac V8’s made from 1955-1979 (there is not much documentation for the last 3 years of Pontiac v8’s unfortunately)
  • Researched and purchased books on the Rochester Quadrajet carburetor
  • Took a welding class where I learned how to stick and MIG weld
  • Research specifics to the Pontiac V8 (350, 400, 455 cubic inch family specifically)

Last week I picked up my block, heads and crank from the Kauffman Racing and boy they look great. I have new pistons, new rods, a turned crank, 400 block bored .030 over , and new stainless steel valves and springs on 6x-4 heads. Oh, and the crank, rods and pistons have been balanced as well. Based on a compression calculator, I estimate the new compression of this motor is somewhere between 8.3:1 to 8.5:1. The head gasket I end up using will be the final determining factor of compression. Either way, 8.5:1 is ideal, that way I can run unleaded gas from any gas station in the country.

The Pontiac Community is Awesome!

I’ve met some pretty cool car guys that have been very helpful through the project. I will say that the stereotype that many folks associate with 70’s muscle car owners could not be further from the truth. It’s a pretty diverse crowd of car enthusiasts from all walks of life. What has surprised me is how many younger folks younger than I are 100% into the hobby. Another common trait seems to be hard work and dedication, which appears to not only show in their love of Pontiac but also in their careers and family life. What blows my mind is how GM not only failed to capitalize on this passion for the brand over the past years, but they completely turned this community away when they ended Pontiac.

What’s Next

The next 2-3 months will include rebuilding the motor, painting the engine bay, fixing the turn signal and the T-tops. Hopefully by summer she’ll be on the road!

Stay tuned, I’ll be posting pictures of the motor soon.

State of the House (Mandato House)

Deck GateThe past couple of months I’ve been focused on the Trans Am project. Last week I finally got the gate made for the deck. Most of the time the gate will be open, but any time we’re out and want either to keep the dog off the deck or Melanie on the deck, we can use the gate. I will stain it when we get a break in the weather.

The next house project is to insulate the garage.  I’ve been holding off on insulating the garage until I got extra outlets wired in, but now I’m just going to forgo the extra outlets and just insulate it. The extra cost of having an electrician add the outlets vs. how often we would use them in the garage pretty much sealed the deal on skipping them.

My plan is to roll-in insulation into the walls, then follow up with drywall. From there on in I’ll be learning how to tape joints and fill in gaps. I’ve never done drywall before, so it will be a good learning experience. It is a garage so I will not feel too bad if I don’t do a top quality job.

The garage door is going to be the most time consuming part of the insulation project. I’ve looked at kits, but they seem overly priced. I will most likely buy strips of foam insulation and glue them in followed by replacing the rubber seals around the door. I estimate about $180 to insulate and drywall the remaining 1-1/2 walls in the garage, and another $200 to insulate the garage door itself. It is crazy to think the door will cost as much, if not more, than to insulate the rest of the garage.

One thing I am going to do is paint a visible vertical line on the footer brick in the garage inline with the vertical studs that way when I go back to hang tools and such, I know where I can drill without using drywall anchors.

What sorts of suggestions do you have for my garage insulation project?

Project Pontiac Trans Am

Last week I purchased a 1981 Pontiac Trans Am! If you know me well, you know I’ve wanted a 1978 Trans Am for years. Even though this is not the correct year, it’s very similar to the Trans Am I wanted and with a little effort over the coming years hopefully it will look like a 78′.

This is the first time I bought a car off eBay. The experience was a good one, but I certainly learned a lot in the process. Biggest thing, ask the seller lots of questions. I was not aware that some of the dashboard components were broken including the turn signal. I did, however, anticipate some issues with things like the doors, window gaskets, etc… So even though I was initially shocked by a few of the additional problems, I still feel somewhat satisfied that I got a decent deal on the car.

Important details about this car:

  • Has no rust (came from the West Coast)
  • Any Pontiac engine from 1970-1981 will fit (I’m looking for a Pontiac 400)
  • Car has factory T-tops

When this car was new in 1981, it was originally dark gray with silver interior. It came with the Turbo Pontiac 301 (4.9L) engine, power windows, power door locks, all wheel disc brakes, posi rear end, air conditioning, cruise control, intermittent wipers, and aluminum honeycomb wheels. It currently still has all of these options except the interior has been converted to tan color, the power door locks is no longer present, and the car was repainted black. For those Trans Am enthusiasts, I am sorry to say that it does not have the WS6 performance package.

The car needs a lot of work. So far the engine needs replaced, interior panels need some TLC, drivers door mechanically  needs some TLC, the wipers are not functioning, heater/AC controls are not functioning, broken interior heater core cover, window and T-top gaskets need replaced, turn signal is broken, steering column needs tightened, and heater core molding needs replaced.

The initial plan is to replace the engine with a Pontiac 400, fix the steering column, heater core cover and drivers side door.

I’ve decided to document all the work I do to the car as a podcast. I haven’t yet decided on a name or format for the podcast, but it should be a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to be involved with the podcast and/or help me with restoring this car, please shoot me an email, angelo [at] mandato.com.

HTML5 audio / video and mp3 / H.264 is the future of new media but does not replace Flash

HTML5 is the future of new media (also known as downloadable media and podcasting). Anyone who has used an iPad or Google Chrome and watched a video knowing it was through an HTML5 video element knows what I’m talking about. Playback is instant, smoother and is much more responsive than via Flash. It is also very easy to develop in your web pages, removing a level of complexity that was previously much more involved and relied upon Adobe Flash.

The remainder of this post explains everything in detail, why use one format over another, what Flash is still good for, and where the media can end up.

Note: An update to this original post may be found at the bottom of this page.

What is HTML5 and what’s the deal with audio/video?

HTML5 is a new version of HTML (markup that creates web pages that you see in your web browser) that adds a number of new elements (special tags that do things in your HTML, e.g. <p> tag indicates a paragraph of text). HTML5 adds two new elements called audio and video. These new elements allow for web developers like myself to easily add an audio/video player in a web page. Without the HTML5 audio/video element, a web developer needs to implement more complicated HTML utilizing the “embed” tags to include a Flash developed player in the web page. In this case, the Flash player is required to be installed on the end user’s computer in order for the audio/video to playback.

What audio and video formats should I use?

Audio: mpeg3/MP3 (.mp3 file extension) is, for the most part, the most ideal audio format. As of current, all but Firefox have/will have support for mpeg3 audio. AAC audio (.m4a) may also work, but if you are looking for a format that will work in absolutely every situation, mp3 is the best bet.

Video: H.264 (.mp4 or .m4v file extensions) is the most ideal video format. As of current, all but Firefox have/will have support for H.264 video.

Why is MP3 and H.264 recommended for audio/video?

MP3 is the audio format of choice because it is the most widely playable audio format. Nearly every media player application, portable media player, and automobile/car stereo can play mp3 files.

The MP3 format became widespread in 1997 when the Windows application WinAmp was released. Created by Justin Frankel, WinAmp made it easy for music enthusiasts to exchange and listen to audio on computers. The small size of MP3 files enabled widespread distribution initially via file sharing applications such as Napster and on wide-area networks such as university dormitory networks. It was such a popular format that Apple included support for MP3 in it’s first release of the iPod in 2001.

H.264 is the video format of choice because it is the most widely playable video format. Though not as widespread as the mp3 format, H.264’s common denominator is that it can be played on the most popular portable media players, MAC OSX, Microsoft Windows, Internet connected TV’s and smart phones. You can thank Apple for making H.264 the standard in its portable hardware (iPod/iPhone), which has dominance in the portable media player market.

What can Flash do that HTML5 audio/video cannot?

Live streaming! Many sites such as Qik and UStream.tv provide live online content, their use of Flash will not change due to HTML5 audio/video.

The difference between “downloadable media” and “live streaming” is the “live” part. Downloadable media is not live, which has an advantage to providing the consumer the ability to save the media and play it back at their convenience. Live streaming on the other hand, is real time audio/video playback that cannot be paused/played without the help of a device to record the content. For this reason, Flash may not be as important but still has the purpose of providing a means to stream live content.

As far as downloadable media is concerned, Flash is perceived as dead, but Flash will play a key role on portable devices such as Android phones in providing live streaming content over the coming years.

The Flash Video Secret

Though most know that Flash is used to play audio mp3 files, many web developers are not aware that Flash can play H.264 video. Since Flash version 9 released in the Winter of 2007, Flash has the ability to play .mp4/.m4v video. Before Flash 9, Flash could only play Flash video (.flv file extension) files.

As far as video is concerned, this solidifies the H.264 format as the most widely playable video format. It allows a web developer to alternatively allow its web visitors the ability to play H.264 video in the event the browser itself cannot play the HTML5 video format.

Google Chrome / Apple Safari

Both Google Chrome and Apple Safari web browsers support mpeg3 (.mp3) and H.264 (.mp4/.m4v). Safari has one glitch though, it will auto download the media files linked in the audio/video tags, which does bring up a challenge for web developers to deal with.

Internet Explorer

Currently, Internet Explorer (IE) does not support HTML5, but the signs back in Fall of 2009 were obvious that they were planning on supporting it in the future. With the recent blog post announcement for support for H.264 video in IE9 and past blog post announcing MP3/AAC audio support, it looks like the next version of IE is on its way of being HTML5 audio/video friendly. There is only one problem though, IE9 will only be available for Windows 7 and Vista, Windows XP will not have IE9 as an upgrade option.

Firefox and the OGG format

Firefox supports a niche audio and video format called OGG. The reason for this is simple, it doesn’t cost Firefox anything to support OGG formats. Since Firefox is essentially a free foundation and not a real company selling products/services, it does not have the money or resources to purchase licenses to include support for the H.264 video format. From the last post I read about the subject, Firefox would have to pay a 5 million dollar license fee in order to use the H.264 video format and it would still be limited to which versions of Firefox could include H.264 (source based compiled versions distributed through different versions of Linux would not be included in the license for example). It is a bit more complicated than this, but you get the idea why Firefox doesn’t support H.264. Read why Firefox does not support H.264.

The OGG format is a combination of a number of formats, two of which are supported by Firefox. The OGG audio format, also referred to as Vorbis (.ogg or .oga file extensions) is a truly open source audio format. The OGG video format, also referred to as Theora (.ogg or .ogv file extensions), is a free video format based upon a patent by On2 Technologies. As of current the patent behind Vorbis is not enforced, allowing the format to be used with out paying any royalty or fees. Example of a potential Theora problem.

I should point out that both Google Chrome and Apple Safari support the two OGG audio and video formats mentioned above. Internet Explorer, Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV and most other portable media / TV hardware most likely do not support OGG, limiting this format’s reach in the market.

Firefox, H.264 and MP3

Firefox will most likely not support H.264 without help from Apple/Microsoft/Google. I predict by years end one of those companies will sponsor Firefox’s H.264 five million dollar license to include H.264 support in Firefox. There could also be a plugin for Firefox that provides H.264 functionality. More interestingly, Apple/Microsoft and Google hold patents related to H.264 so it is possible they could come together and influence MPEG LA (folks who enforce the H.264 licenses) to give the Mozilla Foundation (Firefox) a special license for using H.264. Who knows what will really happen, but it is definitely to Google’s best interest with it’s YouTube property that all web browsers can play back its video content.

I have no idea why Firefox does not support mp3. Mp3 and Ogg video are identical as far as having patents that are not enforced (no one is asking for royalties for using these formats). As far as audio is concerned, I think it is hypocritical of Firefox not to support mpeg3 but support OGG Theora.

Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad/TV

All of Apple’s products/hardware support both MP3 audio and H.264 video formats.

Android/Blackberry/Palm WebOS

The other remaining popular smart phone platforms support both mp3 audio and H.264 video formats.

Other Internet Connected TV Hardware

Other Internet Connected TV hardware (also referred to as OTT TV/Over The Top TV, Set-Top boxes, and IPTV) such as the Roku add the icing to the cake as far as picking audio/video standards are concerned. All of the Internet Connected hardware devices that are planned or that are already available support MP3 audio (.mp3) and H.264 video (.mp4/.m4v).

Conclusion

I am sure this post will upset some folks (Flash developers, Linux/open source enthusiasts, etc…) and I apologize. I love Linux and open source, but I’m sorry to say OGG is not going to become the standard for media. As for Flash, there is still a lot of cool stuff you can do with Flash including live streams, but Flash as far as downloadable media (new media/podcasting) is concerned, Flash is dead.

Update on March 25, 2011:

It appears my prediction may have been wrong about H.264 being sponsored by another vendor for inclusion into Firefox. Over the past year, Google has acquired On2 Technologies (OGG Video) and has launched a new project called WebM which is completely royalty free. This is a game changer both for the WebM video format, but also for OGG Vorbis audio. It also means that Flash is not dead in the short term for downloadable media and can be used to fill in the gap for when a specific audio/video format is not supported in a given browser.

WebM the Game Changer

WebM is significant for a number of reasons. First, it’s important to note one of On2’s past clients, Adobe. One of On2’s older video codex is used for Flash video (.flv). With the launch of WebM video format (.webm), Adobe has promised to include WebM support in future versions of Flash, and seeing it’s past relationship with On2, I don’t see how there would be a problem. In addition, Opera, Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers also support WebM playback. Ogg Theora is essentially replaced by WebM, though the OGG Vorbis audio format that is packaged with OGG Theora and WebM may be the other winner in this HTML5 media tug-of-war.

Also important to note that anything Google related will include WebM support, this means future versions of Android, YouTube and the new Google TV video platform.

Google removes H.264 from Chrome, adds WebM and Launches Google TV

Since the Google acquisition of On2, Google has decided to no longer include H.264 (.mp4) support with the Google Chrome browser, opting instead to include WebM as the supported HTML5 video format. Four significant changes have occurred, which warrant noting:

  • Chrome browser can no longer play H.264 video
  • Chrome browser can no longer play AAC (.m4a) audio
  • Chrome browser can now play WebM video
  • Chrome browser can now play OGG Virbis Audio

Along with Firefox and Opera, this now means that 3 of the 5 major web browsers require WebM for video and OGG Vorbis/Mpeg3 for audio. Also important to note Firefox 4 still does not support Mpeg3 (.mp3) audio, which I think is a major letdown.

With this new WebM format, we can assume that the older OGG Theora video format is no longer a player in the HTML5 video wars. OGG audio on the other hand, is another story.

What will be significant is if future versions of Google TV (also packaged in Sony high end TV’s and Blu-ray players) will be WebM exclusive. If this happens, along with adoption on Android based phones may have enough impact that WebM could quickly become an important video format.

M4a Audio growth stalled, OGG Vorbis Audio growth continues

With the HTML5 Video Wars between WebM and H.264, it means that the AAC (.m4a) Audio format growth is now stalled. Looking at AAC last year, I would have thought by now almost every device and hardware out there would support the format. Important to note video hardware vendors include AAC support mainly because it is required for  H.264. As devices come to market that do not have H.264, it is only natural for those devices will also not support AAC (.m4a). AAC almost had the capability to play almost everywhere, but now it seems the Mpeg3 (.mp3) format will continue to still have wider distribution.

Flash will continue to Bridge the Gap

Many of the TV devices like Boxee rely upon Flash for audio and video playback. These devices may be the winner as things play out since Flash can play mpeg3 (.mp3), H.264 (.mp4), AAC (.m4a via the video player) and WebM (.webm). I also suspect that once WebM support is added, it would only be natural for Flash to then also be capable of playing OGG Vorbis (.ogg/.oga) via the WebM player.

What I recommend as of March, 2011

For Video, I recommend creating H.264 (.mp4) and WebM versions of your video. This way you are able to harness HTML5 video on all five web browsers as well as support nearly every video playing device whether it includes one format or the other.

For Audio, I recommend Mpeg3 (.mp3), it still plays on devices and in applications. Though AAC (.m4a) is a close second, if your not using any of the Audiobook features found in m4a (which by the way only work on Apple hardware and software), there’s no real significant advantage to using m4a over mp3.