Extended Warranties

10/06/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/30/AR2006093000148.html

I don't really have an awful lot to add to the Washington Post commentary on extended warranties, other than highlighting the interesting sidenote that they're not always offered by the point-of-sale but by a third party.

Personal experience is that if the warranted item is going to fail, it does so in the first few months, and that's (almost) always covered by the manufacturer's warranty. The article correctly notes that where the extended warranties pay off is when they bundle something special into the deal, whether it's home service in the case of bigscreen televisions or cleaning and maintenance (in the case of projectors.)

The worst one I've ever come across? Soundsaround here in Calgary wanted $600 for a two year extended warranty on my $800 Sony DVD player. Quite a few years later, the DVD player is still going strong. I think Soundsaround is too, but I've not been there in a while to confirm that...

 

Entertaining concert riders

10/05/06 | by Adam | Categories: Silly

Link: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/1004061iggypop1.html

The Smoking Gun, repository of bizarre documentation and mugshots, has a rather amusing concert rider from Iggy And The Stooges. I'd hate to have received it.

Concert riders are notorious for having idiosyncratic, if not downright bizarre, requirements. Some of them were a bit more subtle though. To let the Wikipedia explain:

The hard rock band Van Halen's now infamous contract rider called for, among other things, a bowl of M&M's backstage, but with provision that all the brown candies must be removed. In one rumored incident, someone had not removed the brown M&M's, and David Lee Roth trashed the dressing room. The M&M's provision was included in Van Halen's contracts not because the band disliked the candy, but because it served a practical purpose: if brown M&Ms were found backstage, then it was probable that other much more important technical aspects of the rider had also not been fulfilled properly.

Snopes also has a good take on this one.

 

Yukon political pass-the-parcel

10/05/06 | by Adam | Categories: Canadian

Link: http://www.cbc.ca/yukonvotes2006/features/feature4-crossing-floor.html

This one completely passed me by until just now. Up in the Yukon territorial politics are incredibly fluid with sitting MPs changing party affiliations seemingly at a moment's notice. The CBC backgrounder makes for a fascinating read, particularly when I'm sitting in a province that rarely, if ever, changes its political stance.

 

Contemporary hidden rooms

10/05/06 | by Adam | Categories: Silly

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/05/garden/05hidden.html?ex=1317700800&en=0fc4a05861b975fa&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

I am in severe envy. Do I need a hidden room in my house? Absolutely not. Would I love one? Oh, yeah...

 

The strange story of Gizmondo

10/04/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://wired.com/wired/archive/14.10/gizmondo.html

Wired Online has an excellent article on the very strange and circuitous rise and fall of the Gizmondo handheld. Fascinating reading.

 

Okami

10/03/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Games

Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000E991PC/thecerealkill-20

This is just the neatest damned game I have come across in a while.

Originality is not usually the strong suit of videogames, and when originality comes into play, it's often coupled with either frustrating mechanics, mere confusion or repetition.

Against a beautiful calligraphic background with an artistic rendering technique reminiscent of XIII, you play a resurrected wolf with Amaterasu, a Shinto sun goddess on your back, and an annoying little bouncing bug on your head.

Beside the usual standard game elements, such as running, jumping, smashing jars to get their contents and the like, you use brush techniques. Yes, I wondered "how the heck would that work?!" as well, but it really does.

Holding down R1 freezes your entire world on a canvas (turning it sepia toned on paper for a moment). You then draw certain brushstrokes in ink, let go R1, and see what effects your brushstroke has wrought. For example, once you learn the technique, a horizontal slash can break things. Drawing in missing details on incomplete or broken items can repair them. Drawing a circle in some places can cause the sun to shine. There's a lot more to this, and it requires a quicker trigger finger than you might imagine, but I won't spoil the rest of the game.

Combat is against demonic critters, starting at monkeys with calligraphic faces, going to monkeys with musical instruments, and getting into worse creatures from there. You can either whack them into dying, or whack them until they lose their colour, and before they regain their colour, slash them horizontally with the paintbrush.

Add to this some quirky characters, rewards for being a little obsessive about things, a day/night cycle that occasionally shows you different things, the ability to have the wolf bark and set off our dogsbarking, being able to dig up treasures wolf-fashion in certain places, the nifty puzzles, the neat things you can do, and the entire "I'm in a Japanese painting" experience make for a very engaging, "I can't believe I'm doing this" (in a good way) experience.

I have complaints, and they are few. The cute Charlie-Brown-adults-esque talking gets very annoying in the spots where you cannot speed the talking up, and a few of the puzzle sequences (like Mr. Orange's dance) will just trap you there until you solve the puzzle.

We rented this game to just try it out, but I think this game is a keeper :)

 

The Trouble With Physics : Lee Smolin

10/03/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books, Science

Link: http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0618551050/thecerealkill-20

My old high school friend, Menwin, and I chatted about string theory around 1990. He'd done quite a lot of reading on it, and was powerfully intrigued. So was I, but I didn't get a lot of the promise of it. I presumed that the standard model would come out of the equations at some point, and hoped if they had something good in their hot little hands, that there might be some good predictions waiting in the wings.

We're still waiting.

My lingering distress over the progress of science, but physics in particular, was still lingering when I encountered Smolin's bright blue book on the shelves...

Full story »

 

GIF is Free at Last!

10/02/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Programming

October 1, 2006, there will be no more worldwide patent impediments to using the GIF format for pictures.

People making their own gaudy animation software for MySpace users heave a global sigh of relief :)

 

Recovering from a bad demo

10/02/06 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh

One of the things that stands out about Steve Jobs' ability to sell his product is his ability to recover well when things screw up during a demo. The link above is to a compilation of keynote screwups where Job's ability to roll with the flow is made very clear. I don't have an equivalent for Bill Gates at the various Microsoft demos but they never seem to be as smooth.

http://davidweiss.blogspot.com/2006/09/apple-keynote-bloopers.html

 

Day Against DRM : October 3

09/30/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A], Ethics, Politics

Taking a subject more near and dear to Adam's heart, Defective By Design has October 3rd announced as "Day Against DRM".

That's a little better than the passive-aggressive I-won't-buy-your-crap I had planned; I'm impressed with social activism like this. "Those darned kids" are standing up for our rights.

From link at BoingBoing.

 

Esperanto Day: December 15

09/30/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions, Languages

Okay, the warning is perhaps premature, but it could take a while to learn enough Esperanto to go along with the official 'day'.

Having encountered Esperanto a long time ago as one of the more durable 'universal language' attempts around, it was funny to encounter it last year at a booth at the big BUGA garden show in Munich.

Esperanto is fairly easy for Europeans. If you know English and French or Italian or Spanish, and in some cases German, you can puzzle out a lot of the vocabulary and the like.

The Wikipedia entry has a lot of amusing surprises, like having Shatner star in an all-Esperanto horror film called Incubus.

It also seems the fashion to have a "day" for everything, so it's no big surprise that there's an Esperanto Day. Perhaps I'll try to go along with the stated 'blog in your native language and translate to Esperanto' theme. That said, though, I'm very, very rusty. Someone may have to remind me, too.

I think my vocabulary stopped short at phrases like La hundo sidas sur la fajro - 'The dog sits on the fire'.

The phenomenon of remembering dumb phrases best really abounds. I still remember stupid phrases like:

* Mes cheveux ont la mine d'un écureil repassé - [French] my hair looks like a pressed squirrel
* Mi pelo tiene el aspecto de una ardilla planchada - [Spanish] my hair looks like a flat squirrel (couldn't find the word for 'pressed' at the time)
* Ni pà bú pà dà hei yu - [Mandarin Chinese] are you afraid of the big black fish?
* Mekula watoto wote nyumbani - [Swahili] I have eaten all your children at home

 

Guy Fox Attack

09/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Politics

I haven't been particularly interested in politics apart from the past, okay, it's approaching a decade. In particular, though, anything that makes international travel less safe (I specifically told the travel agent to avoid all US stopovers for our honeymoon travel plans), gives irrational people more power over political process, or has our bordering neighbours starting to resemble dystopian fiction, gets my dander up.

Most of the techniques the U.S. administration uses to get their way are barely concealed, from their founding philosophies to their media techniques.

The FOX network, which we get only the entertainment, and not the right-wing news side of up here, is firmly in the administration's pocket. It doesn't take a lot of research on Rupert Murdoch or Roger Ailes to see how.

So it wasn't a shock that they'd ambush Clinton a little bit in an interview. What surprised me a little was Clinton's cut-the-bullcrap reaction (here through the mildly comic filter of The Daily Show).

Keith Olbermann had a nice, long, nasty, honest commentary on the administration in reaction to this. Given recent events to rewrite history like the Clinton interview and The Path to 9/11, it seems that rage is required.

It's shocking, but refreshing, and although it still only partially makes up for the media essentially hiding during the worst administrative abuses, it's good to see.

It's strange to contemplate that, as centrist a position as Olbermann is taking on this, I'm sure it will come across as 'leftist' to many, so far to the right the seesaw has dipped.

 

Retro Classics: 99 Bottles of Beer

09/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions, Programming

Link: http://www.99-bottles-of-beer.net/

Sometimes, there are sites that bring back waves of memory to crusty nerds such as myself. There is a site, which I believe has been around for quite some time, giving code examples of how to count down "99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall..." etc.

This is a relatively simple exercise, but different computer languages handle it somewhat differently, and even the same language can technically handle it multiple ways.

What makes http://www.99-bottles-of-beer.net/ different is that they have such a wide variety of programming languages used as samples.

I didn't think Draco would be on the list, but it is. Its claim to fame for me was appearing on one of the free Fred Fish disks, and having one of the provided sample programs make falling snow (piling up in letters like U) in your active window.

Full story »

 

A descant of a different sort

09/28/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music

Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/south_east/5382324.stm

I'd not heard of "presbycusis" before the BBC article linked above, but I am aware of the issue of the range of hearing deteriorating as one ages. In addition to giving me another word I can use while losing at Scrabble, the article describes a gimmicky song based, of all things, a cellphone ring tone which in turn is based off a very high-pitched anti-lurking teenager gizmo. The idea of deliberately using higher frequency sounds to add an extra melody to a piece of music that only some of the audience can perceive is a rather clever one.

At the same time there's something inherently annoying in knowing that I'll never be able to hear the full piece as intended should this concept ever be used on something other than a ringtone-based techno track.

 

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