June 2005 Archives

Catan Online

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I recently discovered Catan Online, an online version of Mayfair Games' excellent Settlers of Catan.

I've been using the free extended trial period to test out various strategies in the game.

Interestingly, they've decided that the game is good enough to use the pay-for-play model.

Free 40-hr Tivo


TiVo is offering a free Series 2 40-hour TiVo.

Subscription cost is extra of course, but on the off chance you don't have TiVo yet, there's very little risk involved. There's a 30 day guarantee so if you're not happy with it then you can get your money back.

links for 2005-06-29



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E85 is 85% Ethanol mixed with 15% gasoline as an alternative fuel. About 40 cents cheaper than normal gasoline, some vehicles are already ready for E85. Most stations with E85 are out in the midwest, and unfortunately the only one in California is in San Diego.

Oil into the Future


Mitsubishi plans Electric car for 2010

The way I see it, there's basically only a couple of ways to switch from gasoline to a different fuel that powers our automobiles, and as far as I can tell, each auto manufacturer is looking ahead to their own country's future when it comes to deciding where the research money is going.

For instance, the US is way behind on hybrid tech -- they've been investing their money into outsourcing hybrid engines from Japan and making bigger gas-guzzling engines. Part of this is because the American public, while they acknowledge the increase in gasoline costs doesn't realize how much more costly gasoline is in other parts of the world.

In the year 2000, shortly after the introduction of the euro, one country in OPEC declared that they wished to be paid in euros instead of U.S. dollars for their oil. Two-thirds of this country's oil was being bought up by U.S. companies. Anyone want to guess what this mysterious country is? That's right, it's Iraq, the country the U.S. invaded 3 years ago. That being said, after throwing trillions of dollars into the Iraq War, the U.S. is heavily invested in gasoline being the resource to hoard into the future.

Japanese companies have all taken different approaches: some hybrid, some hydrogen, and some electric. This is in large part due to the dependence on imported materials and fuels. For the Japanese, it seems, anything is better than gasoline.

German companies seem split on hydrogen as well as diesel as the next stage. As the top exporter in the world, Germany is in a position where they need to see the trend, and then follow it.

Big Ape


Peter Jackson's
King Kong

From the trailer, it looks like WETA isn't quite as good as ILM in doing living creatures. The dinosaurs and ape look distinctly CG.

iPod + iPod photo = iPod w/ color screen


Apple finally got around to updating the base iPod with a color screen. The photo moniker has disappeared entirely, and the new iPod includes functionality for all those lovely iPod photo only devices. It appears the 20GB version has gotten a little thicker (but not heavier), and the price of the 60GB has dropped to $400, which is really strange pricing, as for $300 you can get a 20GB iPod w/color screen, for $30 more you can get the U2 version which comes with a color screen and is thinner than the 20GB version. With only $100 dollars separating 20GB from 60GB, is there much of a reason not to get the 60GB version now? (Part of me thinks the 60GB is so aggressively priced in order to clear out excess inventory of the 60GB iPod photos). Hidden in Apple's sale section is the 30GB iPod photo for $329. The 1GB shuffle is now priced at $129 as well.

iPod Color

With the iPod upgrade announcement done, next week's announcement is likely to be about the iTunes phone.

links for 2005-06-28


I am the puppet master!

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Rag Doll Physics Flash Demo

This interesting Russian flash movie is a demonstration of rag-doll physics, something that is currently being used in video games. Each body part is given weight as well as motion that is restricted to natural movement and then set loose into a physics engine. In this demo, the only real force is gravity. The result is something that looks like a rag doll being thrown around.

If you hold down the mouse button and drag the pointer, you can pull the rag-doll around.

links for 2005-06-25


The Mad Cow Conspiracy Part II


Tests Confirm Second Mad Cow Case in U.S.

Talk about shady. This mad cow was discovered last year (Nov 2004), and the tests that came back two weeks ago pronounced this cow as not having mad cow. What the USDA failed to mention was that they didn't bother to test the mad cow using the Western blot test.

"The department did initial screening using a "rapid test," which was positive. A more detailed immunohistochemistry, or IHC test, was negative. But the department did not conduct a third round, using the Western blot, until the department's inspector general ordered it to do so two weeks ago, said USDA officials, including the inspector general."

It would appear that had it not been for the Inspector General, no further testing would have been done, and the cow would have been designated "safe". The Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns "expressed irritation that the new round of testing had been ordered without his knowledge or approval".

Pocket Zen


I found an article on Zen Pockets, discussing the variety of gear that we haul around with us daily.

The single most important point he makes is that we should carry only what is necessary and save ourselves the effort of lugging around all of our worldly possessions.

For me it comes down to:

  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Cellphone

When I'm not at work, I'll also tend to carry my camera and/or laptop as situations dictate.

Review: Howl's Moving Castle

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I just finished watching the latest Miyazaki animation. Sadly, I am too late, for it has already been moved to the small theater (which is not surprising, given how many summer blockbusters there are this year). The film showed visible artifacts from being run too often. Having read the book, watching the movie was a complete surprise, as while it retained many of the characters from the book, they saved only a few key plot points and changed everything else. The result is a movie that more closely reflects Miyazaki's themes than the original work.

The animation quality is superb. Once again, Studio Ghibli shows why they are a force to be reckoned with in the world of animation. The care they put into painting the backgrounds is astounding, and the mechanical designs are very reminiscent of Nausicaa.

The story is probably the weakest part of the movie. While it does have it's light moments, the story isn't entirely engaging and probably could have used another draft or two to tighten it up a bit. I don't know if it is this way in the original script, but there is far too much explaining going on in the movie, which doesn't move the plot very much at all.

I didn't really enjoy the voice acting of the movie very much, Billy Crystal as Calcifer is great, and while the others give performances that are heads and shoulders over traditional North American anime voice actors, I still found much of the dialogue delivery stiff.

The Digital Camera Primer


Bleusky left me a comment asking for recommendations on purchasing a digital camera. I actually get this question quite often, and this is what I usually tell people:

Choosing a digital camera is a very personal experience, because no one other than yourself knows exactly how you will use it. That being said, most people also don't really know what features they want out of a digital camera until you start asking them questions about how they plan on using the camera.

  • How will you use this camera?

    Will you be taking a lot of still subject photographs? Or will you be planning on taking a lot of candid shots? Are you taking a lot of night/low-light shots or shots in broad daylight? Do you intend on taking video/audio with this camera?

    Cameras these days have a dazzling array of features to fit a variety of lifestyles and purposes. Your goal should be to find one that fits your needs and has the feature set you want.
  • Where would you like your camera to fit?

    This question determines the size of the digital camera. There are quite a few that will fit comfortably in a purse or backpack, versus one that will require a camera bag.
  • How much resolution do you want?

    Resolution of the camera is measured in megapixels. The more megapixels, the higher the resolution, and also the more space it takes up on the memory card. Resolution matters only for dealing with enlargements. For most people who never make prints larger than 4x6 or 5x7, 2 - 3 megapixels is fine. For people who are making 20x30 prints to display, they will want a higher megapixel resolution.
  • How much zoom do you want?

    How close up or far away do you plan on being from the subject? Zoom is usually given in two sets of numbers, one for optical zoom, and another for digital zoom. Optical zoom is the real capability of the camera, digital zoom is basically pixel-doubling, and should be ignored.
  • What is your budget for a digital camera?

    This tells you the price range of where you should be looking. The more features and settings you want, typically the more expensive the camera becomes. General price figures are as follows:
    Consumer-quality price range: $200-$500

    Prosumer-quality price range: $600-1500

    Professional-quality: $5000+

    After you answer these questions, it's relatively easy to find a camera that fits your budget and your needs, and you can check Digital Photography Reviews' gallery for what you can expect out of the camera.

    For bleusky's situation, I think it's fairly easy to find a good point and shoot camera, the most difficult part will be in finding one that does nighttime well. I don't know what you plan on capturing in low light situations, a flash usually works well for most things, unless you're really close up(overexposure) or far away (too dim). Most cameras also have a nightime function that works moderately well (if people remember to use it). Canon also just released the EOS-20Da, a digital SLR camera with specialized astronomy functions, but I think the price is out of the range of most consumers.

    A list of cameras I've used is in the extended entry.

Original Picasso for Sale


If you've ever wanted to own a Picasso, now is your chance, Costco is offering an original Picasso drawing for a mere $130,000

Digital Film Printing

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In June of 2004, a study revealed that nearly half of all digital camera users don't print photos at all, and while I don't fall into that nearly 50% percent, I'm sure there are those who do own a digital camera that do.

There's basically three different choices for a digital camera user:

  • Option 1: Printing at a retailer

    This would be going into a retail location to get them developed. Most traditional photo development places do this now.
  • Option 2: Printing at home

    This would be purchasing one of the many photo printers available and printing it at home.
  • Option 3: Printing via an online service

    Upload your photos to the server, have the film printed on photo paper and sent back to you.

I typically use an online service to print, Cat uses retail, my sister uses a mix of doing retail and online printing, and kwc primarily uses a Canon ip4000r for home printing.

Of the multitude of places that one can get film developed, the following is what I have experienced:

  • Target

    As much as I love Target, their digital printing isn't of the highest quality. Some pixelation was noticable in the printing of the photo.
  • Walmart

    They will refuse to print any photos that look "professional".
  • Walgreens

    My sister uses them whenever they offer free prints.
  • London Drugs

    I used them while I was in Canada. In their retail store, they have a photo station to allow you to bring in your media card, copy the photos to their station, and then make any changes (cropping, redeye, etc) before submitting the order. The prints that came out were quite high quality, and the colors were rich and vivid.

Online Printing:

  • Winkflash

    Cost is 12 cents a print. I'm currently trying them out. (The photo order was placed this morning). They use Fuji photo paper. No minimum order necessary for any of their items. Shipping is only 99 cents. I like how high resolution downloads are free (some services charge for this). Max size is 10x15.
  • Snapfish

    These guys are in the next building over, though I've not used their services yet. Cost is also 12 cents a print. Snapfish has a prepaid plan which can knock prints down to 10 cents a print. Snapfish uses Kodak paper. Shipping is 1.99. Max size is 8x10.
  • Shutterfly

    Shutterfly uses variable pricing, using a prepaid photo plan. Their cost ranges from 19 cents (prepaid) to 29 cents (full price). Shutterfly uses Fuji paper. Shipping costs vary by number of the photos, ranging from 1.79 (for 1 - 10 photos) to 14.99 (for 251-300 photos). Max size is 20x30.
  • Kodak EasyShare Gallery (formerly Ofoto.com)
    I've ordered prints from them before, they arrived very quickly, and used (what else) Kodak paper. Cost is about 25 cents per print. Shipping ranges from 1.49 (for 1-10 prints) to 14.99 (for 250-299 prints). Max size is 20x30.

Smart Cars


One of the things I noticed while I was in B.C. was that smart cars were on the roads, in fact, passing by the Mercedes dealership showed several fortwos just sitting in the lots. Given that the future of smart in the United States is somewhat questionable, it was interesting to see that right across the border, these 60 mpg autos were so abundantly available.

Batman Begins in IMAX


I went to see Batman Begins at the IMAX theater in the San Jose Tech Museum. As far as things go, the Tech Museum in San Jose is probably not the best place to watch movies converted into IMAX due to the curvature of the screen. I felt like I was watching the movie through a fishbowl... Of the IMAX theaters I've been to, so far, I enjoy the Metreon the most -- the viewing angle and the size of the screen are more suitable for cinema viewing. The movie itself is quite enjoyable. Good dialogue, good story, the action sequences are a little too closeup and the acting is decent. Katie Holmes is probably miscast, Christian Bale makes a good Bruce Wayne (but not a great Batman), and Michael Caine makes a great Alfred (although I must admit I really enjoy Michael Caine's performances in movies).



Ben Affleck cautioned for illegal U-Turn

The British Columbia Driving Manual states the following:
"If you find you are going in the wrong direction, you may be tempted to make a U-turn. U-turns are often risky. They are illegal:

  • If they interfere with other traffic.
  • On a curve.
  • On or near the crest of a hill, where you cannot be seen by other traffic within 150 metres.
  • Where a sign prohibits U-turns.
  • At an intersection where there is a traffic light.
  • In a business district, except at an intersection where there is no traffic light.
  • Where a municipal by-law prohibits making a U-turn.

When you are deciding whether to make a U-turn, consider some alternatives, such as driving around the block or continuing on to a side road where you can turn more safely."

Of course, the last time I was in BC, I made more than my fair share of U-Turns (and now I think most of them were illegal).

The other thing to watch out for is yielding to buses...



"I've never seen The Princess Bride."

(followed by a deep gasp of amazement from everyone nearby)

"You've just stealthed through the county fair, abducted a person, and now you're laying waste to the fair. Not exactly Solid Snake, are you?"

(referring to Destroy All Humans)

links for 2005-06-21


Closed Door, Open Door

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Today is my first real day in my new home. I've been in the process of moving all my belongings over now for the last couple of weeks, and yesterday I moved the last of it over. A good chunk of it is still sitting in the garage, while the rest of the furniture populates my home like some strange alien version of Stonehenge.

As soon as I came home, I put my keys, cellphone and wallet on the dresser, and I went into the garage to search for some of my belongings. I closed the door leading into the garage so I could look at the boxes beside the door, and I didn't find it. After a little more searching, I found the box I was looking for. I went to open the door, and I discovered that the door was locked. In disbelief, I tried again, rattling the door. The door was firmly in place. I was completely locked out.

(More rambling in the extended)



The Keys to Your Heart

You are attracted to those who have a split personality - cold as ice on the outside but hot as fire in the heart.
In love, you feel the most alive when your partner is patient and never willing to give up on you.
You'd like to your lover to think you are loyal and faithful... that you'll never change.
You would be forced to break up with someone who was emotional, moody, and difficult to please.
Your ideal relationship is lasting. You want a relationship that looks to the future... one you can grow with.
Your risk of cheating is zero. You care about society and morality. You would never break a commitment.
You think of marriage as something precious. You'll treasure marriage and treat it as sacred.
In this moment, you think of love as commitment. Love only works when both people are totally devoted.
Water element
Your element is Water. You have a calm aura around
you and are in tune with the world around. You
observe it but rarely interfere. Because of
your shy and timid nature you will not have so
many friends in your life. But then again,
large crowds aren't your thing anyway. You are
comfortable on your own and are reserved to
others who you don't know or know very little
of. You know everyone out there does not want
to be your friend, and knowing that is good.
However, people who don't know you that well
thinks that you are cold and distant since you
don't want to talk to them. Although you mean
no harm, you can't always be perfectly
understood in the world. No one can. Life in
general are you quite serene with even if there
are some things you don't like. Your love-life
is not so full of boys/girls, but if you
flirted more with the ones you were interested
in I'm sure something would happen. The hobbies
you choose are calmer ones, you are no party
girl that likes to drink and make-out with
three or more guys/girls in one night. Reading
a book or swimming is more your thing. Rate and

What is your element? [with pics + 7 outcomes + detailed answeres!]
brought to you by Quizilla

links for 2005-06-20


links for 2005-06-18


The World is Beautiful


I think it's easy to forget sometimes just how wonderful the world we live on is. Instead of taking the time to enjoy ourselves and enjoy the world around us, we rush from place to place in a hurried frenzy.

I'm just about finished moving out of my old apartment and moving into my new one (there is still furniture to arrange and assemble and many boxes to unpack). There always seems so much to do that has to be done, but I've decided that there's really no need to speed through life. I'm sure the unpacking will likely take weeks if not months, and a part of me wonders why I came home so soon from my vacation.

Although I just came back from Canada, I'm heading out to Tahoe/Reno this weekend. I've never been there, and I feel like exploring new places. I already want to take another vacation.

Enjoy the moment. Relax.

Time is precious. Don't squander it.

Giant Laser Funding At Risk


Future Giant Laser Threatened by Cuts

From the Article:

"WASHINGTON - A giant laser being built to simulate the explosion of a hydrogen bomb is facing funding cuts in the Senate that supporters say could kill the project after $2.8 billion has been spent on it."

Just for the moment, consider a giant laser that can "simulate the explosion of a hydrogen bomb". I'm merely hypothesizing here, but when I think large array of lasers to achieve fusion, I envision a system of overlapping lasers focused on a single point. Assuming that this has the same effects as a traditional hydrogen bomb, if this project does continue, what we will have achieved is in changing the delivery system of nuclear weaponry. No longer will we need to worry about planes carrying nukes getting shot down and lost, or falling into enemy hands, we just need to locate a point on the globe and nuke away.

With even just 4 lasers out of 192, they have the most powerful laser on the planet. Keep in mind that they've already figured out the technology to ionize a trail so that a laser can remain focused after being fired from a satellite.

How much is needed to keep funding going? 141 million. Are they going to vote to continue funding this? I believe so. I mean, considering that the war in Iraq is well into the trillions, 141 million isn't very much at all...

The Return of Teddy Ruxpin


Teddy Ruxpin goes digital

In the 80s, Teddy Ruxpin was basically a teddy bear with a small amount of animatronics built into the face with a cassette player jammed inside. While Teddy Ruxpin looked like a stuffed bear, he was also quite heavy (due to the mechanicals and the batteries needed to power him). I don't know too much about this new bear -- except that they've decided to use Memory Cards for the stories rathern than cassettes. With 20 years of technological advancement, it shouldn't be a brick to lug around anymore.

iPod Photo


I know that in the past, I've questioned the functionality of having an iPod photo, but I think I want an iPod photo now. During the roadtrip to Edmonton, I realized how useful having one would have been -- not because I want to retreat into my pod, but because it would have made passing around the digital photos so much easier. Of course, I'd also need the iPod photo Camera Connector and my camera's USB cable to make it all work, but it's still much better than passing around a small camera with a tiny LCD screen.

Review: Bose QuietComfort 2


If silence is golden, then noise cancelation is platinum.

I recently picked up a pair of Bose QuietComfort 2 Acoustic Noise Cancelation Headphones. One of the problems I've had lately in airplane travel is that I've had to resort to turning the volume all the way up to drown out the background noise of the airplane engine. These headphones may make the drone of the engine a thing of the past for me.

I've actually been looking for a good pair of noise cancelation headphones for a while now, as I've noticed that in the gym the crappy music can often overpower the melodies within my shuffle. I went to the Apple store today to see if they had any available to test drive, but all they had on display were the Bose Triport headphones. Seeing how comfortable the Triports were, I had to give the QuietComfort 2 a try, and I've been impressed with how comfortable the QuietComfort 2 is. Both the Triport and the QuietComfort 2 are over-the-ear headphones ,which I've never had before, but am rather pleased with.

In terms of noise cancelation, I used the QuietComfort 2 while running the washing machine and dryer, and had those noises effectively filtered out. I say effectively because if there isn't a sound playing and you actively sought the sound out, you could probably pick it out of the background. But, as my sister says, it's like looking for Waldo while someone is pointing at him. Using the QuietComfort 2 to drown out conversations works mediocrely well, depending on the volume of the conversation as well as the number of conversations -- for instance, I can see this working well in a crowded cafe but not well to drown out someone talking to you.

8-bit Flash Fun

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List of Games Available on the Revolution

When Nintendo announced the Revolution, their next generation gaming console, they also announced plans to make available a library of classic games.

The full list is in the extended entry, but I'm fairly sure that they've just sold me as a customer to the Revolution. I can't wait to play these classics on a television again. Playing them on the emulator just loses something in the translation for me. There's nothing like sitting in front of the tv in the living room, having a sugar-laden breakfast cereal and just playing your way through a classic NES title.

Intel inside Apples too


It's official: Apple to Use Intel Microprocessors Beginning in 2006

I have mixed feelings about this. Mainly because I don't have enough information in front of me at the moment about the deal, or how all of this will work out.

Does this mean that Apple is about to declare OS war on Microsoft?

Will Apple architecture remain proprietary?

Will PC manufacturers make PCs with MacOS pre-installed?

How well does Intel scale as compared to Cell?

Will this mean more Windows/Intel Programmers will make the switch to Apple?

I also know that this announcement means months from now I will receive questions that begin with: "I bought this Toshiba laptop, and I want to get MacOS installed on this..." Woe to the Apple Geniuses who work the Genius Bar, for I cannot even fathom the sheer ridiculousness of questions they are about to receive.

Tuesday can't arrive fast enough


If this
google cache of a press release
is true, those Powerbook G5s I've been waiting for will likely leave a nice $2,000+ hole in my bank account next Tuesday.

Unfortunately, it appears likely this is a hoax, since the rumour mill seems to be abuzz about a Intel-Apple partnership.

Apple Recycling iPods


Apple Announces iPod Recycling Program

Starting today, if you bring in your used iPod, iPod mini or iPod Photo into any Apple retail store to be recycled, you can receive 10 percent off any new iPod that day.

It's nice to see that Apple is being environmentally concious about their products, although I can't see this being an incredibly popular program, as I can think of several uses for a dead-battery iPod.


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In celebration of Doughnut Day, Krispy Kreme will give you a free doughnut if you visit one of their stores.

Oh, the places to go...

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List of World Heritage Sites

Seeing how both
Redwood National Park and Yosemite National Park are listed and are relatively close, I really ought to visit more often.