No triskaidekaphobia here!

03/15/09 | by dena | Categories: Announcements, Raves

It was a happy, happy Friday the 13th for us!

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Making music out of YouTube

03/12/09 | by Adam | Categories: Music, YouTube


This is quite impressive. Someone with a significant amount of free time has trawled YouTube, picking up videos of people jamming in their basements, instructional segments, practice sessions, music recitals and miscellaneous audio hackery, and has somehow rearranged and combined them into a superb collection of songs with fascinating videos.

Highly recommended if you have an hour to spare.

(Via BoingBoing)


How about them apples?

03/10/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology


There's a distinct logic -- and irony -- in a comment from a British IT outsourcer:

“In the IT industry women earn a massive 23 per cent less than male counterparts, despite being equally capable,” says Craig-Wood. “IT companies should conduct a quick pay audit, then let go those who are on higher wages for the same job."

From a bloodless business standpoint, she's absolutely right. If you have two resources that cost different amounts but contribute the same to the bottom line and you need to get rid of one of them, it's the more expensive that should go. That this imbalance is due to unequal employment practices gives it a bit more, um, frisson.

I believe there's a old saying about engineers and petards that covers this.


Man Cold

03/08/09 | by Adam | Categories: Silly, YouTube


I wonder quite how unsympathetic EMS would be with me right now if I gave them a call.

(Via Warren Kinsella)


The effect of sub-oceanic terrain on sea level

03/07/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology


I realised that the gravity of the moon causes sea level to change (y'know, tides and all that) but I didn't know that underwater geography would have a similar effect.


(Via Kottke)


The hazard of filing based on keywords

03/01/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music

Take a look at the photo below. Try to make sense of the category written on the front cover.

It took me a bit longer to figure out than I care to admit.


Why I dislike rebates #59

02/28/09 | by Adam | Categories: Whining

You know how rebates work, right? You get a certain amount off whatever it is you're buying but you don't get it at the till. You need to submit some paperwork and then you'll be sent a cheque for whatever the amount was. The basic premise behind it is that most people will not bother, forget to send it in before the disqualification date or not fill in the paperwork properly meaning that all of the money in the rebate becomes profit.

Now that's not the only way to make money off it. The other is far less effective but given enough outstanding rebates, it's not neglible. Example 1:

We are pleased to inform you that your rebate, with the Basic service level you selected has been processed and approved on Jan 30 2009 12:56AM.

Your Check will be mailed within 8-10 weeks . Please contact us if you have any additional questions.

It seriously takes two and a half months *after* the notification has been issued before the rebate will arrive? Keep in mind that this is already a month after the item was purchased and the refund submitted. Interest on $60 isn't huge for that period but have enough of them and it's worth it in someone's books.


DeMille Technical Books Is Still Alive!

02/22/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

UPDATE: DeMille has moved! They are now in the +15 at 639 5 Avenue Southwest in the Standard Life building.

Quite frankly, I thought they were done for when the very cool bookstore that they joined, McNally Robinson, closed its downtown Calgary store. It was sheer happenstance that on my way to pick up a lost book at the transit lost and found (what can I say; being a dad is tiring :) that I encountered the very much alive DeMille bookstore. It hasn't been open long, but it has been reincarnated at 207 6th Avenue. Cindy Chen and her colleague are engineers, and have a good, albeit still growing, collection of engineering books from the myriad disciplines of engineering. Their other sections are not as impressive, in particular the computer section, but they are looking for suggestions of books to carry. Their website is here, though it needs updating at least to tell people that, for starters, the promised store is actually open! Since Coles downtown seems to have backed out of the technical book business somewhat, knowing DeMille is still around is comforting. Go check them out!


That can't be right

02/21/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music

Recently I was looking at Apple's iTunes FAQ documents and the one on "Backing Up Your Music" caught my eye, particularly this paragraph:

if your hard disk becomes damaged or you lose any of the music you've purchased, you'll have to buy any purchased music again to rebuild your library.

I thought that one of the advantages of having a centralized store (like the iTunes Store) which keeps track of your purchases is that you could download it again at any time. A one time download sounds distinctly iffy. As the only supported way of backing up one's music is via DVD or CD -- and there's no incremental support -- anyone with a large collection bought through iTunes is going to have a very, very expensive day when their harddrive finally craters. This is a distinct issue from the DRM one where only authorised computers can play the file: this will affect anyone with any iTunes Plus (i.e. DRM-free) files just as badly.

The upside is that you can manually copy all the files out of the iTunes directory and ensure they're stored elsewhere but for something like this, that should not be required.


MacWorld on audio quality and compression

02/19/09 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Music


MacWorld has an interesting post on audio quality in the digital realm. Worth going through are the reams and reams of reader comments at the end.

My personal take:

While bitrate may matter, the quality of the encoding algorithm matters more as does the tonal range of what's being compressed. When I first started converting my CDs to MP3, I was using 128 kbit. It was very clear that the older, less refined MP3 encoders did a rather poor job compared to current ones. My MP3 collection has not been entirely resampled from when I first began, and even on the old $40 Creative PC SoundWorks speakers, I can tell the age of the file. Flanging on high pitched or staccato notes are particularly obvious, as is the muted quality on some tracks which end up sounding muddy and distant. The newer rips however sound as good on a decent home theatre as the original CD recordings (in this case, VBR method New high quality joint stereo MP3 generated by LAME 3.98 via iTunes to an Airport Express played back via optical out to a Sony (*) amp over a pair of Nuance(**) tower speakers.)

I never had a record player in perfect condition nor the high quality speakers required to show it off to the optimum level so I can't really comment on the continuous wave versus the sampled waveform argument. What I can say is that the vinyl records I did (and actually still do) own have warped, scratched, got dusty and damaged within days of purchasing. Arguments over the purity of analogue vinyl over digital CD therefore have very little interest to me beyond a vague theoretical value.

(* Yes, I know that some people think they're substandard rubbish.)
(** Yes, I know that some people think they're substandard rubbish.)


Theory and Evidence

02/18/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Common Sense, Science

The phrase "it's only a theory" is bandied about in some circles these days, but it's inappropriate when it comes to talking about a scientific capital-T Theory, in particular one whose sesquicentennial takes place this year.

Cries of "prove it" and claims of "never been proven" seem to miss what is at the heart of the matter: evidence, not "proof". I hope that a simplistic analogy might shed some light for those who wonder why we constantly need to make scientific discoveries and why the evidence can approach certainty but never attain it.

With the prevalence of legal dramas on screen, despite the liberties they take with techniques and technology, the analogy with evidence in a court case is instructive:

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Christopher Booker - Welcome to Twit Club

02/09/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Common Sense, Science

In this, the 200th anniversary year of the birth of Charles Darwin, some people feel obliged to weigh in on the subjects of Darwin, or evolution, or what have you, and show themselves to be right twits in the process.

Take a look at Christopher Booker's article for the Spectator (or even his more recent article for the Telegraph).

I don't know what the phenomenon is... people who are not creationists on the face of it but who seem enthralled by thoughts of conspiracy; enjoy feelings of superiority as they imagine scientists bumbling around like Clouseau?

Let's see what Mr. Booker has in store for us:

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Law of Equivalent Toddler Badness

02/07/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Distractions, Thoughts

One thing I have noticed about our toddler - your toddler may vary - is that if he is ever up to anything bad - say, for example opening DVD cases and ripping the inserts out of them, and we STOP him - he will proceed onto things of "equivalent badness". For example, he will move on to pulling out shelves, or pulling out glass bakeware, or tipping a TV tray with things on it, spitting his food out on his lap or teetering dangerously on top of something. It takes him quite a while to get out of this pattern: that seems to require either actually getting away with something on his laundry list of toddler evil, a change of scenery or on rare occasions, a feeding.

I don't know how else to phrase the "equivalent badness" aspect other than to say it consists of activities that require the same amount of parent alarm and intervention.

So here's my homegrown "law" - I'd like to know if it applies to the toddlers of other parents:

A toddler thwarted from an activity will shift to another activity of equivalent badness.


Cake mistakes

02/04/09 | by Adam | Categories: Silly


While many cake mistakes that turn up on the web are simply poor craftsmanship, the USB cake linked to here is -- I think -- decently done. Sadly the design is based a misunderstanding but probably ended up being more interesting that whatever image the customer had really wanted...

It reminds me a bit of one that my parents had made for me when I was just a wee bairn. They wanted a train for the shape of the cake, expecting a traditional steam engine motif. What they got -- the chef was Swiss after all -- was perhaps the finest electric alpine locomotive ever to grace confectionery. I'll have to see if I can dig up a photo of it one of these days...


Fellout 3

02/03/09 | by Adam | Categories: Games

Well, "Fallout 3" is now played through. It's been about three months since I started with it and there's been very little playing of other games in the meantime and a couple of blog posts. I reckon that's not bad value for money.

What wasn't such good value was the initial expansion pack for Fallout: "Operation Anchorage". OA is a rather simplistic expansion for the game: it plugs into the existing game much like World Of Warcraft adds new content inbetween major releases by inserting new content into previously unavailable areas on the map and adding a port of entry. Once the new entry point is added, the new "Alaska" map is accessible only via an in-game VR simulation. I'll leave the recursive nature of that one up to the reader to figure out.

The VR simulation itself is a very linear quest line that one can get through in about two hours (while taking it slowly!). The graphics are nice, the maps are pretty similar in concept to the rest of the game, the AI still isn't terribly smart, and it adds a couple of new items (weapons, T51b armour and one new perk) that might be of use to a new(ish) player, but when you've basically finished the game (I had finished, and then reverted to a save game shortly before doing so) they make no difference. In terms of game lore, not much is added: you get to play through the recovery of Anchorage (and thus Alaska) through two scenarios and four locations (one in the first scenario, three in the latter,) with the occasional reference thrown in for good measure (like the source of the statues of the Alaskan soldiers in the monument in Washington.) So, in gamer terms, it's a bit of a let down. I had been hoping for at least more play time.

The expansion isn't good value for money. At (roughly) USD$15, it is priced in such a way as to be annoying. It cannot be bought for straight cash, but only for 800 Microsoft points. PS3 users are out of luck as this patch and the subsequent ones are a Microsoft exclusive. Ttokens are bought via Microsoft's Games For Windows Live site which really is just the XBox live site. Those Microsoft points can only be bought in multiples of 500 and are USD$7.25 apiece. So, if you don't own an XBox and you don't buy much in the way of Xbox paraphanalia, you just spent about CAD$20 for two hours entertainment. It seems a little steep considering how good value most games tend to be compared to, say, a DVD.

I can only hope that the new two expansions are more worthwhile. Loved Fallout but I'm not keen on "Operation Anchorage."


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