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

Link: http://www.macworld.com/article/138386/2009/01/listenshutup.html

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:

Full story »

 

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:

Full story »

 

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

Link: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/02/03/bakers-make-cake-wit.html

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."

 

PZ Myers' Calgary Talk

01/26/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Journal, Thoughts, Religion, Science

With the kind babysitting services of mom-in-law, we were able to make our way up to the university in pretty decent time, all the while forcing the TomTom to continually update its trajectory - we're not about to make some annoying merges to save a few putative minutes.

We found a glorious parking spot, but it cost the earth. Unlike City parking, no discount for Sunday here, so we shelled out the money and walked right into the doors of university's ICT building. We found the room in an instant. There were two lists to sign: a petition, and a "more information about the Centre For Inquiry". It would have been nice if the actual wording of the petition was boldly displayed somewhere.

Half an hour before the show, there were about 15 people in seats and a young guy working desperately on a patch to the speaker system. There was an endless loop going on a small TV which looked like it had some interesting snippets from Richard Dawkins and E. O. Wilson, but the volume was turned down, so it was difficult to tell what they were on about.

PZ was up on stage from time to time, looking not particularly menacing, getting the MacBook set up. My wife and I regarded amiably from the third row, whiling away the time whilst wondering what we could name our future other children using capital letters with only straight lines, as turned out to be the case with the first child. I noticed that PZ's e-mail seems to be set up to tell him when there is a comment on his blog... given his blog comment volume, is he crazy?

There was a steady influx of people. We did not suspect the audience would grow to nearly completely full, save the odd seat or two, by the time things got started.


Things started a bit after 2 o'clock.

The president of CFI (Centre for Inquiry) Calgary got up on stage. He was passionate, but just nervous enough that he ended up forgetting to introduce his own self, something he either figured out or was told after he finished speaking.

He's Cliff Erasmus, and he has a son in school in Cochrane, and with the population of literalist Christians in Cochrane, he is understandably worried. The Mitford Middle School, which I ran across in looking up whether there were public school/creationism issues in Alberta, gets 100% funding for their (by their faith statement) literalist Christian program, and that will drop to merely 70% after the pilot is finished.

At that 70% funding, they have to teach the Alberta curriculum, but they get 15% of the course time to teach whatever else they care to, which is where the creationism comes in. He did not mention that creationism is being taught at a grade level where evolution has not yet been encountered, much less taught, but was livid about the funding level of what should have been a private school private program.

One unconfirmed rumour floating around Cochrane is that the program was sponsored or started or somesuch by two Texans belonging to a Baptist Seminary.

Cliff talked about plans to turn CFI Calgary into CFI Alberta with the Calgary branch as merely a head office, and implored people to join.

After pleasantries and passing of the microphone to PZ Myers, we were treated to an interesting and stark yet humorous presentation...

Full story »

 

PZ Myers Coming To Calgary

01/19/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A], Religion, Science

The indomitable and unapologetically controversial Paul (PZ) Myers of the Pharyngula blog is coming to the University of Calgary next Sunday afternoon, January 25th (date confirmed!) in the ICT building (see here for maps of the campus), room 102 as the guest of the Calgary branch of the Centre for Inquiry and the University of Calgary Freethought Association.

The topic for the talk is Evolution vs. Creationism in Public Schools.

Here is the poster for the event.

It might be easy to think that unlike south of the border, creationism is not much of a problem here in public schools. It is certainly easy to think that is the case in our larger cities. Yet just outside of town to either side of Calgary, we have some counterexamples, as in the case of the pilot program in Cochrane's Mitford Middle School. As per a CBC article:

Cochrane's Mitford Middle School will launch a Christian program this fall. Christian beliefs, including instruction on creationism in science class, will be taught to 50 or so elementary aged students as part of a two-year pilot project.

Bill Bell, Mitford's principal, said Christian beliefs will be woven through every subject in the new Christian program. Creationism will be taught in science class, he added. "The first teaching will be from a Christian point of view and then there will be an acknowledgement that there is another theory."

Utter garbage. That's not just Christian, that's literalist Christian. From their Statement of Faith:

The Bible is the inspired, only infallible, authoritative, inerrant Word of God

Whenever you see inerrant in this context, you will often find denial of any conflicting modern knowledge at all costs.

There are apparently similar programs in some schools in Chestermere and the Elk Island, Pembina Hills and Red Deer Public school districts, but how literalist these programs are is a topic for further research.

Provincial testing is marked only on the provincial science program, so no marks will be given for creationist answers, so far as we know, but that's of little comfort.

Now granted, the students would otherwise end up in private Christian schools, but creationism excludes large tracts of Christianity and programs like this send a "you're not a REAL Christian" message.

Additionally, given that creationist materials of various flavours (e.g. Icons of Evolution, Answers in Genesis) often lie about evolutionary theory and what scientists believe, the materials used in these classes should be checked to be free of such deceptions. Much as I dislike creationism, teaching caricatured lies about what science says on top of that is particularly immoral.

One particularly worrisome thing is that evolutionary theory is part of the Biology 20 curriculum here. That's typically grade 11, and it's optional - minimal requirements for a diploma are one of the sciences to a 20 level, and that can be Chemistry or Physics.

The Mitford Middle School is grades 5-8, and covering creationism at a period when there's not a lick of evolution in the normal curriculum. Words fail me.

(Now, the regular curriculum in grade 7 does have mention of plant breeding in Plants for Food and Fibre, and geological time and change in Planet Earth, but that's about it. Biological diversity is covered in grade 9, introducing many concepts like heritability and species that can be used later for evolutionary discussion, but that's grade 9, and it still does not cover evolutionary theory. All I can see that would mix it up for the 'Christian curriculum' is geological time, if they are Young-Earthers of the Earth-is-6,000-to-10,000-years-old variety, which seems likely.)

PZ has popped north of the border on a few occasions. I am not sure whether an Alberta-local perspective is going to be expounded anywhere in this talk, but it sure to be an interesting talk nevertheless.

There is an admission charge to this event: $10 for the general public, $5 for students and free for "Friends of the Centre (CFI)".

 

A man ahead of his time

01/15/09 | by Adam | Categories: Music, Copyright

Link: http://www.alchemysite.com/blog/2009/01/eula-end-user-license-agreement-edison.html

Thomas Edison, visionary, appears to have created the odious EULA well before anyone even had an acronym for it.

(Via BoingBoing)

 

iPhone ad hoc networking

01/14/09 | by Adam | Categories: Games, iPhone, PalmT3

Since migrating to an iPhone, I've been impressed by a lot about it. Naturally though, there are various shortcomings that periodically pull me out of that Jobs reality distortion field of bliss.

Today, it's that reduced Bluetooth stack. Whether due to design to reduce power consumption and complexity or legal and licensing constraints, the iPhone supports only mono headset connections via Bluetooth. From the perspective of being a phone, this is fine. From the perspective of being something better, it's most definitely not. On my old Palm Tungsten the decent Bluetooth implementation meant stereo audio, peer to peer connectivity (like swapping business cards or playing multi-person games), device connectivity (like keyboards) and wireless syncing. None of that is available on the iPhone if you're not currently on a WiFi network, and very little of it is even when you are.

This was brought blatantly clear to me one day while stuck on a bus in a snowstorm. Significant other and I wanted to play Scrabble on the iPhone while we waited (and waited) to reach our destination. The bus was extremely crowded and we weren't sitting near each other so decided to play a wireless game to pass the time. Except we couldn't: the multiplayer support in Scrabble is WiFi only. On my much lamented Tungsten I had a copy of the same game which worked beautifully over a Bluetooth connection between two devices; I rather expected the same to be true with the iPhone. Apple has been positioning the iPhone and particularly the iPod Touch as gaming machines against systems like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP which do the ad hoc network so this limitation strikes me as a major shortcoming.

 

Ethics in Fallout 3

01/13/09 | by Adam | Categories: Games

Fallout 3 is a rather violent game which has the interesting addition of a karma system. This is a rough way of tracking how good or bad your character is. I say rough as it's really rather hard to say what's good and bad within the constraints of the game world. The discussion below involves a fair number of spoilers so don't read on unless you either have finished the game or don't mind finding things out.

Full story »

 

Embarrassingly Poor Local New Years' Coverage

01/01/09 | by Nimble | Categories: Journal

It's getting down to about ten minutes to midnight, so we stop our movie and go hunting for some local flavour of celebration on the television with which to count down to midnight.

We looked around, and we found...

...nothing.

Not a thing! City TV was broadcasting footage from Toronto, two hours earlier. CBC just gave us time-shifted The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos... also from Toronto. The stateside stations from the west coast were still quivering in anticipation of the midnight an hour and a tick yet hence.

Flicked all the way up the dial. Nothing.

Was there a reason for this? Were there no cameras pointing at Bright Night New Year's Eve downtown?

What the hell?

 

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