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.


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.)


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."


A man ahead of his time

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


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 »


The joy of upgrading a MacBook harddrive

12/26/08 | by Adam | Categories: Macintosh

For the last few months, my MacBook has been running with a grand total of about two to four gigagbytes of harddrive space. As that number also has to accomodate the OSX swap file which grows over time, it simply wasn't sufficient. Besides, I was getting fed up of constantly deleting my MP3s to make space and that "Wrath Of The Lich King" expansion for World Of Warcraft required six gigabytes (!!) of space to install.

I broke down and bought myself a nice shiny new Seagate 500 GB 2.5" SATA drive for about $150. Much roomier than the rather smaller disk I'd had in there originally. Of course, buying the harddrive is only half the battle. There's rather more to it than that: installation and migration. They're not really two independent items as the process is sigificantly intertwined.

Step #1 was to create a copy of the data from the old drive onto the new. I used Drive Genius 2 to clone the OSX drive onto the new one and then opted to use its partitioning tools to create space for the Boot Camp section. I guess I didn't mention Boot Camp before. Cool concept, running Windows on a Mac. Works well. Seriously sucks when you try to do this migrate disks.

Last time I changed the hard drive in my Mac, I didn't realise that a specific disk formatting was required for Boot Camp to work. I therefore didn't make that change and then had to redo all of the work when I did. It added about a day on to the time. So, gentle reader, when prompted as to the formatting of your drive on an Intel Mac, always choose "GUID Partition Scheme". But I didn't make it this time, oh no, not me. I learn from my mistakes.

Not that this matters and the clone includes the correct setting from the previous drive. I let Drive Genius do its thing and it completed successfully.

Yay. Onto Step #2. I took apart the MacBook, removed the old drive and put in the new one. It booted fine -- after I'd spent several hours or so trying to get the new drive to fit into the bay where the little rubber slides had detached and were blocking the connection. There was also the issue with stripped screws on the battery bay edging, the Torx screws used nowhere else on the case and the drive sled that happily fit in upside down. Ah, the language.

Step #3: Ensure OSX works on the new drive. I then went to repartition only to find that the clone had a corrupted filesystem. Something do to with reuse of extents, whatever they are, and it wasn't going to fix it. No big deal. I'd just use SuperDuper instead. And this is where I started going significantly wrong. I booted off the Drive Genius CD again, recreated the partitions on the new drive, and told the Mac to now boot off the old drive, now in an external USB drive case.

It didn't boot. I don't know why, as it should have.

Back to Drive Genius to run the same tests as before, but this time on the old drive. Not surprisingly the same errors that had appeared on the new drive appeared in the old. I don't know what that says about OSX -- I never encountered any problems actually using the drive so it's either very robust or very stupid. And apparently it won't let me boot when mounted externally. A minor side note here: Drive Genius will not even try to touch a drive with an NTFS or DOS partition so it's rendered almost useless for me from this point on. The sensible thing would have been to put it back into the Mac, swapping the drives around, and go with the SuperDuper plan but I really didn't want to deal with stripped screws and the drive sled again.

So I took option #2: I found an old Firewire drive in the basement and installed Tiger on it. I would have put Leopard there but apparently I've mislaid my disks. I then made that the boot drive, installed SuperDuper on it, wiped the internal drive again using the proper Disk Utility tool that Apple supplies with OSX, and then started the copy process. Again.

Overnight it finished. I rebooted the computer so it was now using the internal drive and disconnected the other two. And it worked. And it was good. For the first time in two days, I could now read mail and browse the internet without worrying about losing data.

However, the battle wasn't over yet. Step #4 is that Boot Camp partition. I used the Boot Camp assistant to create the appropriate partition and then used WinClone to copy the original Boot Camp partition off the external disk onto the new one via an image file. It all went swimmingly well. Booting into Boot Camp went smoothly and everything there seemed to be working fine too.


This meant that just two more things needed to be tested. Parallels 4 and Fusion 2. Parallels uses the Boot Camp partition for a work build environment as I ran out of space on the Mac partition to grow its virtual disk large enough to hold a full Visual Studio install. Fusion uses it as it could run using just the Boot Camp partition without messing up the ability of Boot Camp to use it too, something I would have preferred to have done with Parallels too but that's the price of being an early adopter.

Naturally, neither worked. Parallels at first refused to run on the grounds that the drive where Boot Camp resides at had changed. When I removed and readded it, the complaint changed to being:

"Failed to configure the Boot Camp partition's hard disk. A disk configuration error has occurred. Make sure that you have read/write permissions for the disk".

I tried various things like setting the permissions, installing MacFUSE to enable the NTFS-3g driver to give full read/write permissions on NTFS drives, rebooting Boot Camp a few times, removing all of the drives in Parallels and re-adding them but all in vain.

Google came to the rescue again. The solution turned up in the Parallels support forums and was easy although completely non-intuitive:

mv "/Library/Parallels/Parallels" "/Library/Parallels/Parallels"

Do that and magically everything works again.

Over to Fusion. The error here was that it wouldn't recognise the Boot Camp partition and after I removed it, wouldn't let me add it back in again. The solution this time was to delete the entire Fusion directory in "\users\me\Library\Application Support\VMware Fusion". This forces Fusion to go through the whole process of reinitializing when it starts which allows it to re-create the Boot Camp default settings. When it does that, you have to sit through a somewhat time consuming process where it prepares the Boot Camp partition to run as a virtual machine. Alas for me, that then resulted in an ongoing complaint about Windows not having shutdown correctly. I repeatedly tried rebooting Boot Camp directly and even upgraded to a newer version of Fusion. Eventually one time the error just went away of its own accord. I'm not sure what I did (or didn't) do but I wasn't complaining.

So there you have it. It took me two days to change a hard drive in a MacBook. I somehow think that this will be the last time I change that; if the drive fails, I'll probably just go and buy another computer. It's getting on for three years old now which makes it pretty much obsolete in computer years...


The Guild

12/23/08 | by Adam | Categories: Technology, Games


I'm probably the last person with any Warcraft interest to have found this, but "The Guild" is a pretty funny web-based sitcom about a group of WoW players. Professionally shot and acted, it's actually entertaining. As a bonus for the geekier, it's also accurate in terms of game mechanics.

Give it a whirl:


Automatically regenerating iTunes random playlists

12/17/08 | by Adam | Categories: Music, Macintosh

As I'm slowly trying to replace the Creative Soundblaster Wireless with the Apple Airport Express, one feature that the Creative software did well was random playlist generation. iTunes has that feature too but it works in a sufficiently different way as to be frustrating.

Let me explain: on the Creative, I created a randomized playlist of 50 songs. Every time I chose the playlist, that 50 song lineup changed. On iTunes however (limit to 50 items, selected by "random") that list was static. No matter how often you selected the list, it always came up with exactly the same 50 "randomly" chosen songs. This didn't seem terribly random to me so I was annoyed and went looking for a solution.

As you can imagine, the answer was straight forward and irritatingly logical. From the solution as recommended by user snowdog99 at iLounge:

You have to include a condition that changes, something like "Last played is not in the last n days" - where n is a number of your choice. Without that, once the random songs have been selected there is no reason to change them.

And that was the sole modification. I added a further condition that the music couldn't have been played in the last day and now the list is fresh each time I use it.

"Think Different" indeed...


Contested Ballots in the Minnesota Senate election

11/24/08 | by Adam | Categories: American


One of the interesting things to come out of the remarkably close election in Minnesota is how many ways it's possible to screw up a simple fill-in-the-circle ballot. Given that these ballots are pretty close to the ones used by Elections Canada (or Elections Alberta for that matter) I wouldn't mind knowing if the same issues over voter intent or spoilage occur up here -- not that Alberta elections ever tend to be close enough to require this kind of scrutiny.

(Via Kottke)


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