May 2006 Archives

Design: Opening a BMW 8 Series Trunk


When the BMW 8-series debuted in 1989, it was one of the most technologically advanced cars at the time, designed through CAD, and having a drag coefficient of just 0.29 (same coefficient as the 2000 Prius -- now if they can make a Prius look like an 8 series, I'm sold). The 850i featured the first six speed manual transmission mated with a V12 engine, integrated pop-up headlights, and pioneered numerous engineering enhancements that became standard for later BMWs such as drive-by-wire and using a Local Area Network as an automotive application. Power windows that automatically roll up in excess of 70mph, power seats, power sunroof, power trunk. The 8 series is known for having electrical problems -- I have to say that aside from needing to replace my batteries every year (resulting more from my winter storage than any fault of BMW's) I haven't noticed any problems.
With 300 horsepower and 362 lb-ft of torque, it's still powerful by today's standards, and everytime I take it out for a drive, I have to remind myself that 60mph is only 6 seconds away, and that without very much effort at all I could be at 110, and not even feel like I'm going faster than 70.
Running a V12 engine along with all the electrics in this car requires not just one, but two car batteries. Every year around this time (because the registration notice for this vehicle arrives) I get into the car, put the key into the ignition, turn the switch, and instead of hearing the soft purring of a 12-cylinder engine, I hear silence. The batteries are completely devoid of charge, and I'll need to recharge the batteries before the 8 can thunder off onto the highway. Of course, having a dead battery presents a problem, as the car normally uses the LAN to signal to the trunk that the doors are unlocked, and that the trunk should open if the doors are unlocked. Without power, you can press on the latch all day, and it won't open ever. Every year, I forget about how I go about solving this problem. The first time the batteries died, I used the other car and jumper cables to supply enough power for the doors. This year, because of how I had parked the cars, this wasn't an option to me.
Instead, I turned to the low-tech solution: the car key. It seems that next to the trunk latch on the underside is keyhole. The directions for opening the trunk get complicated here, and I'm not sure why they didn't just have the standard turn the key, trunk is unlocked method, as the procedure is as follows:

  1. Insert Key.
  2. Push Key up into the keyhole.
  3. Turn Key Counter-Clockwise
  4. Stop Pressing Up and Return Key to Normal Position.
  5. Remove Key from Keyhole.
  6. Push Keyhole Up.
  7. Trunk is now unlocked.

It's the most ridiculous, non-intuitive method of opening a trunk I've ever experienced.

Mutants rule the Memorial Day Box Office

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X-Men 3 did well this Memorial Day weekend, pulling in an astonishing 120.1 million over four days, ousting DaVinci Code from the current top spot and breaking the previous Memorial Day record of 90.1 million dollar record set by Jurassic Park way back in 1997. Friday's haul of 45.5 million on X3 loses out only to Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (50 million) for biggest single day gross ever, and the three day take of Friday through Sunday of 103.1 million is amongst the top four, just behind Spider-Man (114.8), Star Wars Episode III (108.1), and Shrek 2 (108).
The financial success of this film pretty much guarantees the making of an X4.

Superheroes in Art


Worth1000 recently had a photoshop contest to insert superhero imagery into works of art.

Superhero Modern Renaissance 2

Superhero Modern Renaissance 2

On Sleep and Jet Lag


Last week, after returning from Japan, I had such a hard time falling asleep that I'd shift into a 48-hour day pattern, where I was essentially only sleeping once every two nights, but this week, that trend seems to have reversed itself, forcing me to sleep 12 hours a day. I thought about trying to maintain the 48-hour day cycle, but after seeing that this lack of sleep made me more susceptible to colds, I've decided to shift back to the normal 24-hour day. It's probably better for my health anyway, but I keep thinking that it would have been interesting to have those additional 8 hours of awake time.
Recent sleep research has shown that 8 hours of sleep is a myth, and that the amount necessary varies from individual to individual. I find my natural sleep space to be about 6 hours, which is likely why I'm sleeping 12 hours to catch up for the 6 that I missed earlier. The sleep deficit seems like a real enough effect.
I need to readjust my internal clock -- I'm so used to getting up at 6am that getting up at noon makes me feel as if I've lost most of the day. One day last week, I woke up at 3pm, and I really did lose that day completely.

Nintendo DS Lite for Sale - Navy Blue


I went to Japan a few weeks ago and brought back an Enamel Navy Blue Nintendo DS Lite. It's now up for sale on eBay. (I was tempted to experiment with craigslist and see the results, but in the end, eBay won out as the place to liberate the DS Lite). The DS Lite is an awesome gaming platform, with some really great games available to it, like Animal Crossing, the New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Cart, and Nintendogs (to name a few).
The DS Lite doesn't feel as toy like or cheap as the original Nintendo DS by being smaller, lighter, and having a nice glossy surface. The DS Lite has numerous improvements over the DS, and reinforces the idea to me that I should always wait for next gen Gameboy hardware. I've owned just about every iteration of the GameBoy platform, from the original green-screen GameBoy to the GameBoy Advance SP. One of the really smart things they did when making theses systems was complete backwards compatibility with previous game hardware, as well as being region-free.
As hot as the DS Lite was in Japan, it would appear that the popularity and demand for the system will also be high in the United States -- many U.S. retailers have stopped taking pre-orders for the system, and are now only selling the DS Lite as part of a $200+ bundle package. While I have my doubts that demand will be like the XBox360 (as the DS Lite is simply an upgraded DS, and historically second iteration gaming hardware just doesn't have the same demand as the first iteration, even when the first iteration has a power supply that burns out the game console (XBox 360).

View eBay Listing of Nintendo DS Lite

Game Ratings: Why They Matter


About a year ago, Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games released "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" which included code that turned the 'M'-rated game into an 'Adults Only 18+'-rated game. Now it seems that the much lauded "Elder Scrolls: Oblivion" (published by Take-Two Interactive) has also been re-rated from a 'T'-rating to an 'M 17+'-rated game, partially because according to the ESRB: "more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating, as well as (with the PC version of the game) the presence of a locked-out art file or 'skin' that, if accessed through a third-party modification, allows the user to play with topless versions of female characters." The ESRB is adding a Nudity content descriptor to the PC version of the game until it "can be remastered and the topless skin removed."
When the ratings system first started, software developers didn't think it would work very well, but here we are, almost a decade later, and the ratings system still isn't doing what it ought to be doing (on the first pass, anyways). The reason for this is that the ESRB, while they do review the game, don't play the whole game throughly looking for hidden things such as this -- the person who fills out the form for ESRB submission might not be a developer with any knowledge, and ESRB does not ask for code to do an audit (nor should they -- developers should be open and honest about such hidden features to the ESRB). However, the nature of the Oblivion player mod (a third party app unlocking an art asset) is one that is difficult to prevent. While including a nude texture was a mistake on Bethesda Software's part, there is little to stop a player from applying a nude texture of their own, which makes the whole thing seem kind of silly. I remember in the early days of playing Quake, in games that allowed custom models, it was only a matter of time before one saw a unclothed player run by -- or worse, a flying body part. In short, having any kind of custom modifications leaves one open for this kind of behavior.
But it seems that in the world of PC and console games, the ratings have another effect, one that strikes a little closer to the game publisher -- the lower rated your game is, the bigger audience it can reach, and the more outlets one can advertise on. 'M' rated games are targeted mainly for the PC audience, the big game publishers like EA won't make 'M' rated console games because they're not likely to sell well -- 'T' games sell much better, and 'E' games sell even better than 'T' games. EA however doesn't make the most 'E' rated games, the 'E' rated games are actually most likely to be published by Nintendo (out of the major publishers).
Some retailers won't carry 'M' games because the penalty for selling M games to those under 17 years of age is a really heavy fine. Major retail chains like Wal-Mart and Target don't carry them for this reason, so there is definitely motivation on developers to underrate the amount of violence and sexual content in their games. (Of course one could argue that by having controversial content, one generates free advertising as the incident is broadcast on the media -- sales of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas spiked when Hot Coffee was discovered).
For a game like Oblivion, which was selling well before it was re-rated, a re-rating to "M 17+" stops sales in its tracks as retailers are forced to pull the game from their shelves and wait for remastered versions to arrive.
Shack News: Hot Coffee Strikes Again, Oblivion Re-rated

Badger Badger Badger Mushroom Snake!


Video: Badger Song recreated in World of Warcraft. Bagders, mushrooms and snakes are pretty common in MMORGs, a similar video could have been made with Everquest, or any other RRG released in the last few years.
If someone can recreate Magical Trevor or Kenya in World of Warcraft, then I'll be impressed. (Magical Trevor is the harder of the two, because while lions, tigers and zebras exist in WoW, I don't think there are any beans).

Star Wars in 3-D

| 0 Comments reports that next year could see the release of a 3-D version of the Phantom Menace in theaters. I don't particularly like 3-D movies -- they've always felt really gimmicky to me, so I can't say I'm looking forward to this. Of course, to me, this whole thing sounds like yet another attempt to milk the Star Wars franchise for more cash. Of course, we all know how much Phantom Menace sucks, so I can't understand why anyone would want to see it again for 10 bucks, years later in 3-D.

It's just another Monday

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Whenever I return from Japan, I always feel like a time traveller. Part of this has to do with how hi-tech everything in Japan feels, and the other part has to do with how crossing over the international date line lets you arrive in America before you leave Japan which results in you repeating a day (for those of you who despise Mondays, this Monday for me will be approximately 40 hours long).
The flight back was relatively uneventful -- the plane was very empty, so while the boarding agent hassled me about bringing as much carry-on luggage as I did, they let me board with more items than I should have been allowed to (I ended up checking in one of the four bags I attempted to carry-on, partially out of guilt of bringing so much stuff, and partially because I was tired of dragging four bags everywhere). The result of this late check in was that this bag was the very first bag to pop out of the conveyor belt in the luggage carousel. This makes me wonder if the next time what I ought to do is check baggage in at the gate rather than the counter.
My keep awake material on this trip was my 3 year old GameBoy Advance SP, which still seems to hold an extraordinarily long charge -- 8+ hours, even with the screen lit. I'm a quarter of the way through Advance Wars 2's Hard Campaign now (I started the Hard Campaign at the beginning of the flight).
Coming back from San Jose was an interesting trip -- I mistakenly hopped on the airport shuttle that takes you to the VTA Light Rail Station rather than the one destined for CalTrain -- but VTA runs to downtown Mountain View anyways, so the trip ended up being a little cheaper, but a little longer. Dragging five bags of stuff down through Castro Street was definitely not the highlight of the return journey home.
I'll be doing a complete writeup with the events and photos of my Japan trip as soon as I organize all the material.
Quick trivia:

  • Over 3,000 photos were taken over the 2 weeks worth of travel.
  • I covered 410 kilometers in one day going from Hakodate to Sapporo to Wakkanai over the course of 9 hours.
  • Shinkansen are the fastest way to travel by land in Tokyo, going over 250 km/h.
  • Japan gets more varieties of everything including KitKats, colors for electronics, and Pocky.
  • The abundance of vending machines makes dehydration nearly impossible.

Japan Tour: Shinjuku and Harajuku


The last time I was in Japan, I stayed in the Shinjuju area next to the Metropolitan Government Building. But because it was the first trip to Japan, the only time we spent in Shinjuku was basically going to and from the train station. Shinjuku is one of the shopping districts in Japan, and department stores line the streets. Because the weather was quite wet,it was decided to make the day one for shopping.
Afterwards, Harajuku was revisted for the Omotesando Hills building, which sadly in photos somes out looking like any other mall. Because the guidebook had noted a second Tadao Ando building, we trekked to the other side of Omotesando and encountered other architectural marvels, such as the Cartier building and the Prada building.

Tokyo Tour: Akihabara


Yesterday, we went to Akihabara, the geek capital of Tokyo. Akihabara is divided into two sections -- the new corporate UDX side and the old eclectic "Electric Town" side. The new UDX side is tall skyscraper buildings --superstore electronics stores, while the older Electric Town is smaller specialty shops, and smaller, narrower buildings. It's a dangerous place, as every hobby one has is likely serviced by this section of Tokyo. Into computers? There's a whole section of town filled with bins and shelves of computer parts. Camera shops, as well as toy stores are abundant here, and there is no lack of shops selling video game stuff. For Ken and I, Akihabara is our greatest expenditure of cash on this trip so far. I was enslaved by the gachapon capsule toy machines (I completed a set of the Evangelion toys) and bought a Ice Climber peg toy (it's really cool -- photos when I get back to the U.S.). Akihabara is also a haven for American anime and video game fans -- there was no lack of Westerners perusing the shops and stores in the area.
The Nintendo DS is huge here -- they have advertisements for it on the subway lines, as well as many unique software packages that I hope will see conversion to the U.S. market. The DS Lite is sold out everywhere and the normal DS is rare to find.

Update: From Sapporo


I wasn't supposed to spend too much time blogging, and spend more time adventuring, but I'm all adventured out for the moment, and this stopping point actually has internet, so why not take advantage of it?
Sapporo is one of those cities that's dangerous for a foodie like me.
The main JR station is located in the center of town, with a huge mall located on top of it, as well as several department stores around it. The 6th floor is full of restaurants and dessert cafes, and most importantly, most of them don't close until 11 pm. A movie theater sits on the 7th floor of the JR station/mall.
Sapporo Tower connected to the JR station rises 38 stories into the air to give a view of the entire city. At the top of the Tower is a tea cafe, as well as a lounge to just chill.
If Tokyo is the Japanese equivalent of New York, I'd say Sapporo is San Francisco with food competition restaurants. In Sapporo, there are a number of restaurants here that offer as-much-as-you-can-eat (fill-in-the-blank)-in 120 minutes.
After the harrowing journey to Sapporo, I found myself hungry, and unlike the malls in the United States, the restaurants in malls in Japan are actually pretty good so I stopped in at a restaurant called Molette -- their specialty is omelettes, but I ordered bacon spaghetti topped with green peppers, onions, basil, and japanese eggplant instead, as I dislike having omelettes for dinner. It was tasty, but also very greasy -- no doubt the spaghetti was stir-fried in the grease leftover from the bacon. It's also a place for desserts. If I had more time, more money I'd likely try many more things, but alas, both are a limited resource.

Destination: Hakodate


The first 5 hours involved a switch from the San Jose to LAX to Tokyo flight to one direct from San Jose to Tokyo. The flight agent at the check in counter was kind enough to reroute me directly, and while I could have gone home and returned to the airport hours later, I decided to kill time in SJC by checking to see if I had everything, then worrying about whether or not I had remembered to bring my camera charger along. I arrived at the airport at 7, the rescheduled plane didn't take off until 1, the flight took 9 hours, which didn't set down until 4pm Saturday Tokyo time. Getting my railpass and booking passage for an overnight train took 15 minutes, and from Narita Airport to Tokyo station took an hour, and less than 10 minutes to go from Tokyo to Ueno, Where I would catch an 11 hour night train to take me from Ueno to Hakodate, putting our arrival time at 6:30am on Sunday morning. We would spend the rest of the day touring Hakodate (Hakodate isn't that big), and climbing up Mount Hakodate for the magnificent view. By the time we went to sleep, 39 hours had elapsed since leaving my house. In those 39 hours, I had taken the opportunity to sneak in hour long naps to make it possible to survive the very long travel times.
Tomorrow, while my friends attend the conference in Hakodate, I will set out for the northwest corner of Hokkaido, to visit the city of Wakkanai, which is apparently the location of the best uni in Japan, as well as home to some spectacular views. If all goes to plan, I should be back in Hakodate by Friday to continue our trip down to Honshuu.

Star Wars: The Franchise Menace

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I have no problem with Lucasfilm finally releasing the unaltered versions on DVD. In fact, given their stance on re-releases of the original trilogy, I'm really surprised at their decision on such a radical move. And just for the record, every version placed on video for the Star Wars trilogy has been altered in some way from the theatrical cut, and I will predict that the "theatrical editions" will be made from the masters that were used to make the Special Edition cuts of the trilogy. As I see it, this move to produce yet another edition of Star Wars is a last minute attempt to make a grab for the money on DVD before everyone begins to convert their media library to Blu-ray or HD-DVD, and then in another 10 years, we can expect the remasted definitive Blu-Ray/HD-DVD version.


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Kaavya Viswanathan loses her book deal after being discovered plagiarizing.
Originally, the plan was that a revised edition, would replace the un-original plagiarized version. She had a movie deal. She had a deal for a second book. Those things are most likely gone now. Of course, there's still a way for her to profit from this by turning her true story into a made-for-tv-movie.
I think the lesson here is that if you're going to put your name on something, make sure it belongs to you first.

Spin-off prequel for BSG


Sci-Fi Channel announces Caprica, a spin-off prequel series for Battlestar Galactica set 50 years before the events of Battlestar Galactica.

Apple Mac Commercials


Apple started a new ad campaign for their computers called "Get a Mac". Unlike their "Switcher" ads, which featured real people giving testimonials, this new series of ads features a man in a business suit representing a PC, and a young man in jeans, t-shirt and hooded sweatshirt espousing the benefits of their platform.
I'd rather they produced more fun ads like iMac G3 "Colors" ad and less testamonial ads like Jeff Goldblum for Apple iMac, because I think the whole point of an ad is to communicate to the person on the other end subtlely why they need to own this product, how it will change their lives. A good advertisement will create desire for a product. The "Safe Happens" ad campaign of Volkswagen which started 3 weeks ago has according to USA Today, "resulted in requests for brochures are up 37% at call centers and 56% on the Web compared with the first 15 days of March, and Internet requests for dealer price quotes are up 58%."
Is it possible for this new series of ads from Apple to generate this kind of interest? Possible, but unlikely in my opinion. While targeted for potential switchers, these ads appeal more to the Apple faithful than the outsiders.