On contracts and unlocking cellphones

04/29/09 | by Adam | Categories: iPhone

Link: http://emperor.tidbits.com/TidBITS/Talk/2606

TidBITS, an Apple-centred news/discussion site, had a very brief discussion on unlocking cellphones after the contract is up.

I have to say I'm unsure why cellphone companies are not obliged to do this. The rationale -- as I understand it -- is that the cost of the phone is subsidised by the contract and the longer the contract, the more the subsidy (i.e. the cheaper the phone is.) Once that contract is complete, the subsidy should be fully paid back and therefore the cellphone should be entirely yours. However, on a locked phone this is not the case as it's still limited to use on only that particular cell network. I can see why the cell companies don't want to do it as it's an extra impediment to switching, and if the phone was free with a contract I could even accept it, but when you're spending several hundred dollars on a more sophisticated device like the iPhone the device should be yours free and clear.

Imagine buying a house where the mortgage company said (after being paid back in full) "Ok, it's all yours, but you're still going to need to pay us to live in it."

It's a bit absurd.


On "magic"

04/28/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/17-05/ff_neuroscienceofmagic?currentPage=all

Wired has a nice writeup on magic tricks and the shortcomings of the human perceptual system that allow them to work.


Hack Attack

04/28/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Internet, Spamming

A hearty thank you to the folks who do my hosting for catching this.

A hacker or script kiddie managed to upload a somewhat nasty-looking package into my cgi-bin directory. I haven't thoroughly investigated the code yet, but from the looks of it, the intention was either that any time the system tried to run an automated backup, it would send atrocious amounts of spam, or if someone typed in the url plus backup.cgi, it would give a direct-mailing interface, which would allow someone to send atrocious amounts of spam.

I'm leaning towards the latter possibility, because there is a "flood" mode in the script.

The script itself self-identifies as being made by "YellSOFT" and perhaps being called "GoldeR". (I can't seem to get the text to show up in Russian to get it translated)

The package also contains text files filled with alternative greetings (e.g. HI, Dear, Sorry if you not us), declarations of you-like-nudism (e.g. The favourite a nudism site of your friend invites you.), lists of unsubscribe messages, spamvertised redirection web sites (often using a /video or /private directory on someone else's web site), and a giant list, in a file called f.txt, of faked From: e-mail addresses.

Thank you oh so very much, you bottom-feeders.

As for my part, off I go to inform each and every one of those sites of the presence of the redirection page. I don't know how much I can hope for, but maybe I can help knock off a few. As I write this, all nine sites have the redirector page.


Progress ain't everything

04/26/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://www.bogost.com/games/a_television_simulator.shtml

When I moved off the Amiga to other platforms, I left behind a number of interesting hardware tricks required for producing the sterling graphics the platform was known for. When trying to use the Amiga file formats on other platforms, the results were never as good due to those features being absent.

The linked to article discusses something very similar with the even older games consoles that took advantage of the behaviour of the low end technology available at that time -- specifically artefacting from cheap televisions -- and how never technology doesn't represent the appearance or behaviour correctly, often making it look a whole lot worse than it was.

(Via BoingBoing)


Good news for meat-eating hangover sufferers

04/24/09 | by Adam | Categories: Silly

Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/science/sciencenews/5118283/Bacon-sandwich-really-does-cure-a-hangover.html

Who knew? A fry up really does help to cure hangovers. According to an article in Britain's Torygraph:

Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life said: "Food doesn't soak up the alcohol but it does increase your metabolism helping you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence. So food will often help you feel better.

"Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good."

Ms Roberts told The Mirror: "Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of aminos which tops these up, giving you a clearer head."


Pseudo-random changes to iTunes Store application pricing

04/23/09 | by Adam | Categories: iPhone

Link: http://appshopper.com/navigation/mygps

I keep tabs on applications in the iTunes Store that drop to free as it's a chance to try out an application that otherwise I wouldn't bother with.

Sometimes when looking at the apps, you see some very odd behaviour. At the link is a program called "MyGPS". Since its introduction in mid-February this year, it's changed price just under 40 times, typically dropping to free and then back up, usually on the same day.

The main reason this price volatility caught my eye is probably the same reason that the author does this: I downloaded it thinking it was free when in fact it had just gone back up in price. I wasn't paying enough attention as I should have been (caveat emptor and all that) but this isn't what I would have called upstanding ethical behaviour on the part of the author. I've not spent much time seeing how many others do this, but I frankly wouldn't be too surprised to see that it's widespread.


Staples MailMate Compact Shredder

04/22/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Reviews

Link: http://www.staples.ca/ENG/Catalog/cat_sku.asp?CatIds=&webid=649935&affixedcode=WW

Pluses: Small, attractive shredder capable of destroying CDs and credit cards. Staples will replace it when it fails within the warranty period.

Minuses: Randomly decides that it's going to no longer turn on. Small paper bin means frequent changes; removal of paper bin to empty it shuts off power; see first minus.

Conclusion: Lump of junk. Avoid.


Queen & George Michael's "Killer"/"Papa Was A Rolling Stone" mashup

04/21/09 | by Adam | Categories: Music

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Live_(EP)

While trawling my way through a used CD store down in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I found an EP ("Five Live") credited to George Michael and Queen. The recordings on it were recorded for a concert to benefit charities in Freddy Mercury's name. I'd never heard of it before so decided to give it a try.

The conventional Queen songs ("Somebody to Love", "There Are The Days Of Our Lives") were well done but basically not terribly interesting. Where it gets fun is where the band mixes together Seal's "Killer" and Barrett Strong's "Papa Was A Rolling Stone". It's not a combination I would have expected to work but it does.

If you can find a copy, well worth a look.


Fallout: New Vegas

04/21/09 | by Adam | Categories: Games

Link: http://www.offworld.com/2009/04/fallout-new-vegas-obsidian.html

Oooh oooh oooh. There is no way that The Pitt is going to tide me over until then though.

Hm, I think I may have a copy of WoW:WOTLK lying around which might fit the bill.


Dreaming of electric sheep

04/20/09 | by Adam | Categories: Silly

Link: http://xkcd.com/571/

This is another Xkcd classic: a simple joke that's incomprehensible without a certain understanding of programming issues and popular convention.


Slipstreaming OSX install discs

04/18/09 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh

The short of it is that you can't.

Slightly longer explanation: one of the generally unheralded positive things about Microsoft Windows is that you can use various tools -- including one from Microsoft themselves -- that allow you to build custom install discs. This includes the ability to add later service packs to one's install disc, meaning that they don't need to be downloaded and installed one by one should a reinstall of the operating system be required. When I installed Boot Camp on my MacBook, an XP install with Service Pack 2 already applied was required. You couldn't install XP in its original form and then upgrade, it had to be SP2 from the get go. As I have a bad habit of buying software, frequently when it's new, all I had was the original XP release CD. With slipstreaming I was able to build a new one and move along.

Apple has never supported this. There was a third party tool called "Slipy" which performed a similar task but it seems to have disappeared from the internet, leaving only dead links in its wake. So, if your OSX partition goes south while you don't have an internet connection and you do manage to reinstall from the OSX install disk you smartly brought with you, that's as far as you can go. No patches, no updates, no nothing. It's vanilla OSX for you, baby.

There is an argument to be made that what you really need is a complete backup; that merely reinstalling the operating system won't get you anywhere. After all, if you don't have any internet access you won't be able to download and reinstall any of the required software anyway, and who carries around DVDs of absolutely *everything* necessary to restore their portable? Besides, in these days of high speed internet, 800 MB downloads are chickenfeed and don't take that long.

Frankly, no. That's a needless waste of time and bandwith. Most of the software I use could easily fit onto a second single DVD and when traveling I'm more inclined to trust a static piece of plastic in a CD wallet than a delicate external harddrive.

There's a further argument to be made that since, at least in the case of OSX 10.5, the install DVD is dual layer and doesn't fit on a single 4.7 GB DVD, this is pointless. It's true that writable 8 GB media is expensive and the drives capable of doing it are still thin on the ground, but darn it, it should be possible. With BluRay media available now -- albeit still not officially supported on the Mac -- that's an utterly arbitrary limit that's begging to be superseded.

I do like my Mac but sometimes it's Microsoft that gets it right, not Apple.


Airfoil Speakers Touch

04/17/09 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh, iPhone

Link: http://www.rogueamoeba.com/airfoil/iphone/

I really wanted to like this. I've been waiting for someone to come up with a decent application that I could use to spool audio from my Mac to my iPhone while at home. It would be -- so to speak -- "Radio Adam: The Next Generation".

I thought this was it. Alas, no.

There are a couple of problems with the software. The first is that it's a push, not pull, approach. You need to start the application on the iTouch/iPhone and then tell the desktop app to connect to it; you can't just have the desktop side up and start the iPhone app when you need it. So that's rather cumbersome.

The second is that when it's up, it's purely a receiving stream. If you're playing audio via iTunes and want to skip the song, you need to exit the app (which stops it playing), start up the Apple Remote app, change the song there, then go back to the Airfoil Speaker app and find that you now need to go back to the desktop -- wherever that happens to be -- to restart the communication. It is, in a word, clunky; clunky to the point of being unusable.

Too bad really; Rogue Amoeba have put out some sterling applications in the past -- I really love Radioshift Touch -- but this one isn't worth the effort.


On Twitter

04/14/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

I'm up in the air over the value of Twitter but I think I figured out some of the attraction today. We had a minor power outage and I wasn't sure if it was my house or more widespread. When I started seeing messages about it in #yyc, that pretty much answered my questions. I've now added a few local resources such #calgary, @cbccalgary, @ctvcalgary, @calgarycitynews and @cityofcalgary which should pretty much cover the road closures, garbage pickups, street cleaning and all the other local minutae it's useful to know about but somehow I never manage to do so. For those wondering about the at and hash/pound/gate symbols preceding the name, it merely defines whether it's an interest group ("#") for automated searches or an actual Twitter account ("@").

All that said, I still don't get the whole following thing of what I refer to as "twitter bugs", you know, the ones with what could be best described as 140 character verbal diarrohea.


Best item from April Fools 2009

04/01/09 | by Adam | Categories: Silly

Link: http://www.thinkgeek.com/stuff/41/tauntaun.html?cpg=93H

It absolutely definitely has to be ThinkGeek's Tauntaun sleeping bag.


Why I dislike rebates #60

03/20/09 | by Adam | Categories: Whining

Link: http://blogs.nimblebrain.net/index.php/2009/02/28/why-i-dislike-rebates-59?blog=5

In the post from a few weeks ago, I commented on why I dislike mail-in rebates. The cheque for the rebate that sparked the comment arrived in the other day, two and a half months after sending in the form. Now I have another item to add to the list:

They invariably forget to rebate the tax too.

When you buy an item for, say, $100 with a $25 rebate, you get charged tax on the full amount. In Alberta that's 7%, so it's a $107 bill at the cash register. If you only get the $25 back, you're being shortchanged to the tune of $1.75. It's not a lot to be sure, but you get the multiplication factor back in action again. I don't know who gets to keep that money, whether it's the government, the vendor or the rebate operator, but it shouldn't be any of them.


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