Review: Dock-N-Talk

08/22/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Reviews

Summary: the Dock-N-Talk is a gizmo that allows regular telephones to use a cellphone as if it was a landline.

Rationale: $500 a year in Telus charges for a landline barely used while paying quite a lot more for a cellphone with lots of any-time minutes and miscellaneous extras. The home telephone kit is already paid for and in convenient locations.

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Review: Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth Stereo Headphones

08/21/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Reviews

Summary: Bluetooth-based stereo headphones.

I like listening to music while taking the bus or working in the garden, but find the corded headsets prone to catching and tugging off. Naturally, I'm less than fond of that so was looking for alternatives. After an impressive demo from a friend, I decided to pick up Plantronic's wireless Bluetooth stereo headset, the Pulsar 590A.

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Hidden Songs In The Key Of X

08/20/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

A while ago, I picked up "Songs In the Key of X" which was a tribute (?) album to the X-Files. I remember hearing a few years ago that there was a hidden track on it. The track (two actually) exist in slot 0 (i.e. before the CD starts, and don't get played normally.) When I ripped the CD using AudioGrabber on the Dell laptop none of the track list settings brought up the hidden tracks. I searched around the internet for a bit and found another method: reset the sector count to 0. On trying to use it, I got an ASPI error. Even leading a few frames in didn't help, so I gave up. When I tried again on my desktop -- whaddya know -- it works!

The first song is a rather dark Nick Cave effort while the second is an off-beat remix of the X-Files theme. They're worth seeking out.


Review: Creative Soundblaster Wireless Music

08/20/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Reviews

Summary: The Creative Soundblaster Wireless is a 802.11b MP3 player designed to feed digital music into a stereo from an archive elsewhere.

Part 1: History

When a review starts "I really wanted this to work well", you know it's not going to be a terribly positive review. So, to cut a long story short, "I really wanted this to work well..."

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Poor business practices

08/20/06 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Whining

A while ago I was pretty positive about a Palm application called WorldMate Pro. It's a traveller's companion including all sorts of conversion factors, world weather reports, airline flight checker and so on. It looked nice and worked pretty well. When I first bought it, it lacked the flight stuff, but had pretty much everything else, and was a buy-once app. When they moved to calling it "pro" and added the flight stuff, the developers included a year's subscription to the advanced services. When the subscription expired, they asked me to renew the subscription and I declined given that I was primarily using the non-advanced features. When I went to use it after that, it stopped working entirely. Given that they want $50 a year for maintenance, I'm rather annoyed about the whole deal. Anyway, now due to its all or nothing deal, the software is not recommended.

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Nairobi Redux

08/09/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Journal

Back in Nairobi. The story so far...

From Kampala, we went to Jinja (still in Uganda) for an unprecedented three days (it's been mostly moving every day). We took a banda, and had a luxury tent upgrade booked for the last day (mid-trip, I thought it would be a good idea, and it was).

It was good, but it rained on day two and didn't really stop. Jinja has this red dirt that turns to mud and gets into and onto everything. Even one of the local dogs, a Maltese, was perennially peach-coloured from living in this environment.

We begged out of quad biking, which would have been a muddy disaster, but partook of the local meal planned anyhow, and it was interesting albeit starchy. We had matoke, mashed green bananas, which are starchy and very mildly banana-tasting, we had ugali, which was like polenta, but white. There was rice, beans, some pork in sauce, cassava (innocuous, and starchy, but not bad), white sweet potatoes and a thin peanut sauce (good on the bananas), as well as saucy chopped cabbage.

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Back in Kampala

08/02/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Travel

The odd deal with splitting us into two groups in Rwanda to see the gorillas was one of the small scams they often pull over there, apparently. It's so that they can get two vehicle transfers out of you, doubling your fee, of course. They sent one group on a short trip, and the other (with Dena and I) on a medium trip, guaranteeing about an hour and a half to two hours' difference in trip time, so the first group to arrive back would be tempted to take the transport back. Thank goodness our first group stuck to its guns. We could have had a decently easy trek instead of a literally breath-taking one :)

Ah well, at least the staff heading up the mission was really nice :)

Back in Kampala, did Queen Elizabeth Park, which is a bit devoid of tons of animal life (they had a war there), and were there for two nights, which was a heavenly break from the mad dash out to see the gorillas. Some good old elephants there, and odd wildlife wandering the campgrounds (warthogs, Marabou storks, banded mongeese). Got a little clip of two elephants play-fighting, but not enough bandwidth to upload it from here :)

We woke up to find our tent bags dragged away by wildlife. That was interesting, especially since we discovered it at 5 am when we got up and it was otherwise dark.

Off to Jinja tomorrow for a record-breaking three nights. Yay!

Hope you all are taking care of yourselves :)


Not Hotel But Definitely Rwanda

07/29/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Journal

More of the story so far, but in brief :)

Nairobi was a little disturbingly unmodern in the spot where we holed up on the day before the trip. I am pleased that that turns out not to be the case everywhere :) (I like Nakuru, for example)

The Silver Springs Hotel is quite a nice spot, but in the midst of a bit of squalor. It's a little hard to walk too far down the street. There are a LOT of vendors, and they're persistent.

We met up with Shayne, the tour leader, at the Indaba campsite. The truck was new to him, he didn't have a co-pilot, so the first few days were a bit rough.

I and Dena got food poisoning from the Emirates flight from Dubai to Nairobi. Oh god, that lasted for days and was nasty; haven't had nastiness like that since Hong Kong McDonald's ice cream.

We went to Lake Nakuru National Park. Great lot of game there - I mean, we saw nearly everything except lions and elephants. Lake was filled with flamingoes (don't get too close; it reeks!) We camped out, quite tired (it got dark by the time we got there), and were unceremoniously awoken a little too late to the sight of everyone else already having packed their tents.

Later, things went a little smoother...

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The Story So Far

07/26/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Travel

We have finally made it to Nairobi! We took a few days in Dubai on the way over, for a break and to catch our breath (so as not to have to spend more than 24 hours on airplanes and in airports at once).

The flight to Heathrow from Calgary was nothing special, though I appreciated being able to eat my meal with my arms by my sides instead of suspended over it like the previous Air Canada flight. We should have brought more pieces of luggage. Should have taken the fact that the big bag was overweight as a sign that not everyone past the Canadian check-in was going to be so nice to us on this front.

Getting through Heathrow to terminal 3 was an utter maze. It seemed as though they had introduced some extra security measures in a heretofore unused corridor and were herding everything through it.

We waited for the plane to Dubai's emergency lighting system to be repaired - it took a couple of hours. There was a playmat there, a wonderful thing that the kids were playing on like mad. A sort of three-dimensional blocky plane with a couple of holes for "seats", and the kids were tumbling all over. I think our future children need one of these.

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Au Revoir

07/17/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Announcements [A]

See you when I get back. Adam is in charge of spamwhacking until I get back (thank you, Adam!). I will have lots of stories to tell :)


Nexxtech Desktop Alarm Clock with Flashlight

07/17/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Toys, Travel


Much as we may lament the takeover of most Radio Shack store by Circuit City, it has imparted to the store a "cool gadget" mentality, with pretty reasonable prices on most things, to boot.

We were looking for an alarm clock to take on safari. Well, The Source has a good half a pantful* and then some - a good twenty or so alarm-capable clocks, most with a bevy of other odd features, like a picture frame, or a remote control (!).

(*Yes, I realize this isn't in metric)

This fun little alarm clock is about a foot-long triangular stick. It's also a flashlight, which you can get by pulling out the left end a little. It also measures the temperature. It also has a sensor mode where if you touch it or otherwise move it, it lights up; great for seeing the time at night (we would suggest turning this feature off while it's in your luggage).

One of the fun bits about the interface is that you just twist the right cap forwards or backwards to switch modes, change the time, etc.

It was $15. That's a lot of fun for $15. Well, if you like odd gadgets.


Psalm 82

07/13/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Religion


I was wandering around in other peoples' blogs, and ran across what seemed like a very odd quote indeed:

When God, or Yaweh, or Elohim, or any of his buddies from Psalm 82 gets off his ass and comes down and knocks on my door, I'll be open to the idea.

Psalm 82? Buddies in Psalm 82? That sounds a bit odd.

Well, from the King James Version:

82:1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
82:2 How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah.
82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.
82:4 Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.
82:5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.
82:6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
82:7 But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.

I've seen some arguments about Genesis with the two creation stories about the man and woman made by the Elohim (the "host", to some implying in a way that these are other gods), and 'Adam' and 'Eve' made, one from dust and one from a rib, by Yahweh/Jehovah.

It's interesting to see the signs of polytheism in parts of the Old Testament. If I was up on my textual criticism, I'm sure there might be more to be found in other, older manuscripts.


Countdown to Africa

07/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Journal, Thoughts, Travel

The big safari is nearly upon us!

I must admit, I'm getting nervous, although I feel a little better knowing our tickets are available for pickup (I thought I'd picked them up and forgotten where they were; we booked this quite a while ago!) I'm going to start calling hotels and making sure the bookings are solid as well, just to calm my nerves.

We're doing a tour-de-force. Before going to Africa, we are making a stop in Dubai (it's cheaper going London->Dubai->Nairobi, so we thought we would take advantage of it). It's going to likely be above body temperature outside there, though, so it's going to be interesting, but I don't think we're exactly going to be beach bunnies for that part.

We're taking an extra day in Nairobi, Kenya, to get acclimatized to Africa. This is their winter time (I don't have an immediate explanation as to why, since Kenya has the equator going through it) and the temperatures are actually supposed to be quite comfortable. Cooler than our summer typically is. (Take a look at the forecast)

We're going through quite a bit of Uganda for the first part of the trip. Reason being that the gorillas are in the southwest tip of Uganda. (For those keeping track of the geography, Uganda is to the west of Kenya, and Kenya is totally on the east coast of Africa, below Sudan and Somalia) Lake Victoria is partly in Uganda, and we'll be spending some time there as well.

We do a little bit of Kenya and a fair bit of Tanzania (to the south of Kenya), seeing things like the Ngorongoro Crater (you should see the crater using Google Earth - it's quite an amazing big circle from orbit), and the Serengeti, passing by (but not climbing) Kilimanjaro. (Odd bit of trivia: mlima = mountain in Swahili, kilima = hill - I guess it's like calling a big guy "tiny" :) )

We spend some time on Zanzibar, the Spice Island (not to be confused with the Spice Islands of Marco Polo and pirate fame in Indonesia) and in particular in Stone Town, which is a leftover from the ruling days of the Sultanate of Oman on this island.

Ought to be spectacular!

I'm going to have to get another memory card and battery for my camera, I think. I think I'll need to finally put that new hard drive in this computer to hold the pictures ;)


A Passel of Swahili Books

07/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Reviews, Books

Colloquial Swahili

What this book has going for it are a number of natural conversations, some good attention-gettings ("Hebu!") and the likes of how to invite people and turn down invitations, and some pretty clear grammar sections.

What's frustrating about this book (as with many language books) is that you practically need a Swahili-English dictionary to use it. Many words are missing from the vocabulary and end-of-the-book dictionary sections.

Simplified Swahili

This book is a crash course in the grammar and vocabulary. It's actually quite well put together, and every section explains in good, but not stuffy, detail the rules of Swahili and good rules of thumb that you might not notice otherwise.

It's pretty intense, though, and there's not a lot in the way of conversations in the book. An excellent companion for other resources.

Swahili Basic Course

This was the oddest of the lot, but not in a bad way. For those who've ever seen Foreign Service Institute books before, this will seem very familiar. The entire book is authored on a typewriter, or at least daisy-wheel printer. The quality of reproduction is not stellar, but it is readable.

What's particularly interesting about this book is the content. The book is big, for one, although not intensely dense. Each chapter (there are 150, though each chapter is 1-5 pages) begins with a fairly natural conversation. You get a few good grammar rules in each section. Then comes the good part. Due to the size of the book, they have fit in lots of substitution examples. Lots of "here's what the sentence looks like with different..." and they show you how the sentences change if you substitute other words, other people, other tenses. This is really, really helpful when trying to learn.

I didn't get the audio for this book. The audio is expensive, though now I'm regretting not getting it. To understand a Swahili speaker, I may have to ask them to write it down (Tafadhali uniandikie!) just so I can recognize it!


Nick Matzke on Evolution

07/11/06 | by Nimble | Categories: Thoughts, Science


(A side note: I know there's a lot of jargon in here. One of these days, I'll have to tackle one jargonesque term at a time and try to bring it to a public level. In the meantime, if there's something that looks interesting but total Greek, just ask)

A member of the NCSE, Nick writes some pretty thorough, thoughtful things on evolutionary theory. He's responsible for such dissections of creationist and intelligent design thought as Icons of Obfuscation.

Here (comment #11) is a spirited screed by Nick on misunderstandings of the scale of some of the conflicts inside evolutionary theory, and in particular, misunderstandings of Richard Dawkins somehow dogmatically "not getting" some of these issues.

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