June 2006 Archives

links 2006-06-26


Parking lot sale


Akihabara is small area in Tokyo which is geek central, a place that otakus (fanboys) of anime, video games, toys, electronics or maid cafes seem to congregate at. There are alleys which sell the latest GPS systems, and alleys in which one can find nothing but resistors and miscellaneous electronics. It's not unheard for storefronts in Akihabara to just have containers outside of random bargain-priced electronics -- whether it's hard drives or weird USB devices or PCI cards. And it's always a feeding frenzy, no matter what day or time of day, you will see men and women of all ages picking through the containers looking for a bargain.
The closest thing that I've been to that resembles that kind of frenzy is the 4 day sale at SurplusComputers in Santa Clara -- they order pallettes of electronics set them out in their parking lot for 4 days and let people pick through them. Most of the electronics are really cheap -- prices start at $1 and climb slowly from there. I went early this morning and bought the following:

    9 LED Flashlight (Red) $3

    LED Flashlight Mount for a Bicycle $1

    Digital Multimeter $5

    Engraver ($5)
    Soldering Iron ($5)
    IDE to USB 2.0 Cable ($14)
    PCI Firewire card ($10)
    Leather Carrying Case ($2)

They had other things too, cordless drills, screwdrivers, etc, but this stuff should keep me plenty busy for a while.

Joss Whedon's Equality Now Speech


Joss Whedon gave a speech at Equality Now last month, explaining where his inspiration for his strong female characters comes from. Video is 8 mins. long.

Equality Now is Joss Whedon's favorite charity, which is focused on works to end violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. They are currently having screenings of Serenity around the world with proceeds going to Equality Now. The Bay Area charity screening of Serenity is tonight (June 23rd, 2006 11:59pm at the Bridge Theater at 3010 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94118).

Viral Advertising Billboard: I Pooted.


If you watched Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, you would understand. (Image by BigChill)
The billboard is part of an advertising campaign for Cartoon Network (there are other enigmatic billboards posted across the country promoting other shows). The quote is from an excellent episode of Fosters titled "Mac Daddy" in which Mac wakes up with a strange new imaginary friend named "Cheese" next to him.
Mac: But, Bloo, I thought you hated Cheese.

Bloo: You know what? You're right. I didn't like Cheese. I had difficulty tolerating Cheese. And as far as I could tell, nobody else really had a taste for Cheese. Except the mice. Mice like Cheese.

Cheese: Hi, doggies.

Bloo: But now, even though Cheese once made my stomach turn, I like Cheese. I hope to have my taste of Cheese every day, maybe even for the rest of my life, even though Cheese smells. And in time, I hope everyone learns to appreciate his unique flavor, if you will. I love you, brother.

[hugs Cheese]

Cheese: I pooted.

links 2006-06-21




When I was in Japan this summer, I was surprised to see crows in Tokyo. Not only were they plentiful, but they were big too, and they weren't afraid of people. Crows are acknowledged as being at the top of avian IQ (capable of making tools and communication. It should probably come as no surprise then that crows like high-speed internet as much as humans do. They like it for any entirely different reason (the fiber optic cable is great for building nests), but as a result of this nest building, crows have managed to disconnect portions of Tokyo.
I used to have to do fiber optic cabling at work -- not only was the fiber optic cable expensive, but it was fragile to the point where broken fiber optic had to be entirely replaced, so I'm sure it must be frustrating to have to replace what was taken by the birds.

We <3 DS Lite


According to the Japanese Hardware Sales in Japan for the Week of June 5th through the 11th:

    - DS Lite: 132,027

    - PSP: 21,656

    - PS2: 18,981

    - GBA SP: 4,116

    - Game Boy Micro: 1,654

    - DS: 1,371

    - Xbox 360: 1,100

    - Gamecube: 961

    - GBA: 30

    - Xbox: 20

That's units sold, folks. There's 30 people in Japan who just bought a Game Boy Advance (GBA) two weeks ago. The GBA is a unit that came out in October of 2001 -- so it's a five year old game system. The Micro is slightly more popular than the old DS (unofficially known now as the DS Chunky/Pudgy/Fat). But check out those numbers for the DS Lite -- 132,027. It's comparable to the 2-day North American sales number for the DS Lite, which was 136,000 on Sunday and Monday of this past week. In the US, we just got it, in Japan, they've had it for over 2 months now, and it's still selling out. Of course, I'm not the only one in love with the DS Lite, TIME (maybe you've heard of it?) calls the DS Lite the Gadget of the Week, giving praise to the Apple-like design, the brighter screens and the innovative games.

links 6-15-2006

    The The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive is presenting an exhibit devoted to the Art of the Storyboard throughout the months of June and July. Included in the exhibit are segments from the boards for the pilot episodes of The Yogi Bear Show, The Alvin Show and The Flintstones; as well as examples of the work of Warner Bros storymen, Warren Foster, John Dunn and Mike Maltese. The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1pm to 9pm. The Archive is located at 2114 Burbank Bl in Burbank... just a few blocks East of Buena Vista. Admission is free, but a donation is requested to help support and expand the Archive Project.
Got Questions? Ask a Ninja. Kinda reminds me of Strongbad, but with a Ninja instead of a Mexican Wrestler, and using Reallife video instead of Flash animation. Alex Halavais, a professor at the University of Buffalo, gives his students a final gift as he shows them How to cheat good, a comical blog entry featuring such gems as:
    5. Malaprop big words Make sure you pick a word that sounds impervious and use it incorrigibly, or inventorate words. We-ll be udderly convinced of your genuinity (not to mention your precedential potential). Snuff said.
Myers Motors has resurrected and improved on what was formerly known as the Corbin Sparrow electric car as the NmG (No More Gas) . At $24,900, it's a much cheaper alternative to the $105,000 Tango electric car (the electric car George Clooney drives). I drove a Xebra (from Zap!) at the Maker Faire, but the NmG goes much faster than the Xebra, making it actually capable of being driven on the highway at 70-75 mph, and because the NmG is classified as a motorcycle, it qualifies for using the HOV/Carpool lanes. What happens when you pair the body of an Ariel Atom and the AC Propulsion Electric Motor? You get the Wrightspeed X1, an electric car capable of 0-60 in 3 seconds. EW's Ten Best Car Chases of All Time. I don't really agree with the list, because while I think some of the classic car chases are great, some of the best movie chase scenes are now within modern films -- but we sort of take them for granted now -- where's the fun car chase scene in the Transporter with the BMW 750 vs the Peugeots? or the wonderful chase through the Los Angeles subway system in the modern remade Italian Job? Pick almost any Jerry Bruckheimer film, and it's probably got a good car chase in it somewhere.

Burn SUV Burn

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When I left my hometown of Cerritos and went to Berkeley, people would ask where home was. "L.A." was usually the answer. For most people, that answer was good enough -- the suburbs of L.A. are little known except for those of us who actually live there. Every once in a while a Southern Californian would dig deeper.

"Where in L.A.?" they'd ask.

"Cerritos", I'd answer.

"Oh, I've heard of Cerritos. Cerritos Auto Square, right?" they'd say.

There's really only two things Cerritos is known for -- the Cerritos Auto Square and the Cerritos Library.
My sister says that while she was going to UCSD some students would drive north an hour and half to go to the Guppy House, one of the local teahouses in the city, whose specialty is bing shui, also known as Taiwanese shaved ice. So, I guess the Guppy House is also fairly well known.
The Auto Square is on Studebaker and South Street, right next to the shopping mall, the fire station and Guppy House. The Library is one street away on 183rd. It's a pretty small city, so it always feels a bit strange when they manage to make national news. This time the national news isn't something the town should be proud of (like rolling out wi-fi throughout the city or having a contestant on Nashville Star). This time, it's about one of the new car dealerships in Cerritos (don't buy cars in my hometown, there are better deals elsewhere in Southern California) providing an arsonist to torch cars.

    Investigators found the arson-for-hire ring involved a new-car dealership in Cerritos, California. Debt-weary SUV owners contacted the finance manager, hoping to trade in their gas-guzzler for something cheaper. They were then put in touch with an arsonist who told them to leave the keys in the ignition and $300 cash in the glovebox. An arsonist would then take the car to a remote location and set it afire. After the car was torched, the owners would then contact their insurance company and report their vehicle stolen, expecting their debt to be cancelled. Instead, they were investigated for insurance fraud.

The Cappucino Amortization Metric

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I should point out that I don't normally use the word "amortize" unless I'm trying to prove that something I can't really afford is not just a bargain but practically free. This usually involves dividing the cost of the item I can't afford by the number of years I'm planning to use it, or, if that doesn't work, by the number of days or hours or minutes, until I get a number that is less than the cost of a cappucino.

-- Nora Ephron, The New Yorker June 5, 2006
When I was growing up, G.I. Joe figures were like three dollars a piece, and that was my metric for money. Comics were sixty cents in those days, so a G.I. Joe was worth five comics, and a Transformer (depending on the type) was anywhere from one and a half to thirteen (one and a half being the Autobot mini cars or Decepticon two-pack tapes, while thirteen would be the $40 re-branded Macross Super Valkyrie Autobot Jetfire).
My uncle, when he was visiting from Taiwan bought me thirteen G.I. Joes once, and I have to say, as expensive as Jetfire was, he was worth it in the amount of playtime. The thirteen G.I. Joes didn't even come close to Jetfire, which was one of the few toys that despite the brokeness (he lost his stickers, some of his armor was lost or broken, and his left arm would fall off) that I still kept around. It's because of Jetfire and other toys like him that I take several factors into consideration of purchases -- the evaluation of the whole rather than the sum of its parts.
Now that I'm an adult, I find that I can't really count in G.I. Joes anymore. They've gotten more expensive (9.99 for two) and their play quality has dropped substantially. Add to those factors that I'm just not as interested in toys as I used to be at twelve, and the system of purchasing metrics just breaks down. As an adult, new metrics need to be set -- while I was in college, meals were evaluated into Fat Slice equivalents (3.00 for a cheese slice, 3.50 for the special), and entertainment was counted in CDs (at a rough $15 per) or movies.
Just like the purchase of Jetfire, I needed to figure out some way of justifying purchases which used large sums of money. The answer was simple -- amortize the sum of money into smaller sums over a long period of time. For example, I bought my home theater system in college consiting of 27 inch Sony TV, VCR and Dolby speakers for $600, and it came with a 3 year warranty. At the very worst, if it broke down on year 3 plus one day, I'll have paid $200 a year, or 55 cents a day for the privelege of owning a Sony Trinitron 27 inch TV. 55 cents a day was mere pocket change, the amount that is tossed mindlessly into the change jar -- as far as I was concerned I was practically stealing it from the store for that amount. Surely I could afford 55 cents a day. I'd get cheese instead of toppings on my pizza, or skip the coke machine at work. I'd walk to the next BART station in SF instead of getting on the closest one. I'd cook instead of eating out or I'd buy one less comic book at Comics Relief. 55 cents a day would be no problem at all. 12 years later, those things are all still working -- at least as far as I know. My sister took the TV for her apartment last year, the VCR is gathering dust in my garage, and the huge speakers I sold on eBay. The TV exceeded my expectations fourfold, costing me 14 cents a day instead of 55 cents, which leaves me with an extra 41 cents over 12 years, which amounts to a good $1795 -- almost enough for a new HD Plasma TV, and you know what? It's practically free.

links for 6-11-2006

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Nintendo-themed Monopoly

Motorola Razr II (codename: Canary). While the Motorola Razr has sort of a Star Trek Tricorder look to it, the upcoming Razr II has a very classy look to it. Since my contract comes up in July, I'm starting to make a shortlist of phones to switch to.

The New Transformers Movie Teaser Site

Nintendo DS Lite available in US

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Nintendo DS Lites are now available in the United States (only in Polar White color). Europe gets Black, and Japan gets two shades of blue in addition to Polar White. The only reason I can think for Nintendo to not release the other colors here is due to choice paralysis -- customers holding off their purchases because stores might only have the color they don't want. I expect that we will see other colors at some point down the line (my guess would be late November) The DS Lite is the second generation of DS hardware -- it's lighter, smaller, and brighter than the first gen DS, so it's surprising that Nintendo is taking this approach, as the second gen of Nintendo hardware is always vastly improved, but doesn't sell as well as the first iteration.
Several retailers have already sold out of their initial allocation of Lites. If you're still looking for a Nintendo DS Lite, Target seems to have a good stock of them.
Engadget has pictures of the Nintendo DS launch in New York. Some guy waited over 12 hours to be the first in line! At least he got a free copy of Brain Age (retail value 19.99).



FoodNews has a downloadable Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce Wallet Card (PDF) - It's like the Seafood Watch card, but for fruits and vegetables. While it's not as indepth as the Seafood Card, it does provide some guidance when one must have conventional (such as when eating out).

Cars, Pixar's latest animated film is released in theaters today. Owen Wilson stars as the voice of talking racecar Lightning McQueen.

Ratatouille will be Pixar's next film, about a rat living in Paris who likes good food.

Superhero helps stop purse-snatching, turns out to be a pizza delivery man

Detox Clinic for Video Game Addicts Opens. If you or someone you know is a victim of video game addiction give them a call, because a gamer is a terrible thing to waste.



Farecast Beta


John Batelle was nice enough to post about Farecast, a beta website that advises when one should buy airfare. (The beta version only has Boston and Seattle airports as origin points) so while it won't help me (yet) find when to buy airfare for flying from San Jose to Los Angeles, I can see how this will be a powerful tool in the future.
I have 25 invites to this, let me know if you want one.



Well, "The Princess Bride DVD " had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. So he took me to his cabin and told me his secret. "I am not the Princess Bride DVD," he said. "My name is The Buttercup Edition. I inherited this title from the previous Princess Bride DVD, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Princess Bride DVD, either. His name was The Special Edition. The real Princess Bride DVD has been retired five years and living like a king in Patagonia." Then he explained the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You will be "The Princess Bride DVD: Dread Pirate Roberts Edition." '
One of my favorite childhood movies (which still retains its likeability as an adult) is the movie The Princess Bride. When the Princess Bride DVD was released by MGM in 2000, I bought it, but was really disappointed with the number of extras on it. A year later, they released The Princess Bride Special Editon DVD, with additional extra features. Coming soon is the The Princess Bride Dread Pirate Roberts Editon DVD and
Princess Bride Buttercup Editon DVDs. As far as I can tell, there's no difference between Buttercup and Dread Pirate Roberts, other than the cover of the DVD, but these two new versions add a mocumentary special feature on the Dread Pirate Roberts.

K is for...


I just finished reading A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in the Earthsea series of books by Ursula K. LeGuin. I didn't realize until I read the author info on the back flap of the book, that the K in Ursula K. LeGuin is for Kroeber. Kroeber, as in the daughter of Alfred L. Kroeber, the famous anthropologist that Kroeber Hall and Kroeber Fountain on the U.C. Berkeley campus is named after.

5 Years


It's not a bird, it's not a plane, it's a movie called "World Trade Center by Oliver Stone. This year seems to have quite a number of films surrounding the Sept. 11 bombing of the World Trade Center -- these films seem to be to be borderline opportunistic and definitely exploitative, falling so close to the 5 year anniversary of this event. But the 5 years it takes to bring the movie version of these events to the big screen may also be the time it takes for a tragedy to become acceptable as entertainment. I think this movie will likely receive a couple of Oscar nominations, just because Hollywood is so sentimental and patriotic -- I'll put on my future seeing hat and predict right now: best director, best film, best screenplay, best actor, best supporting actor.

Art on Sunday


Yesterday I was feeling rather scientific, today's links are more art-based:
Portland Museum of Arts is displaying a study of Mona Lisa, which dated before 1510, suggesting that it was either a study created by DaVinci as a prepatory work, or possibly a copy painted by one of his students shortly after the creation of the original Mona Lisa.
Japan has recreated the voice of Mona Lisa based on research from an accoustic crime lab.
Real Snake on a Plane. Life imitating art, but no Samuel L. Jackson on this flight.
The Ghibli Museum has some wonderful globes painted by Miyazaki on display.
Interview with Gez Fry, who explains how he learned to to do Japanese Style Animation-Illustrations, and break into a very competitive market as a freelance artist.

Getting into Games, the Gollum Way


Here's a story for all those folks wanting to get into the video games industry -- get into movies first, buy a house, pay a mortgage, and then have your mortgage broker introduce you to the head of a game studio*. It's a strange way of getting into the industry, but it worked for Andy Serkis, the actor who played Gollum and King Kong in Peter Jackson's movies. The story on BBC: "Mortgage leads Gollum actor into games tells the strange tale:

    [Serkis'] mortgage advisor is the brother of the boss of Ninja Theory, Tameem Antoniades. When Antoniades found out about his brother's celebrity client, he asked him to pass on a trailer for the game. Once Serkis saw it, he wanted in.

* I don't actually recommend this path, it's a lot easier to get into this industry than what a lot of people think. You just have to be willing to sell your life for a couple of years.

Force FX Lightsabers


Recently Master Replicas released the Darth Maul Force FX Dual-Bladed Lightsaber (as well as the damaged single bladed lightsaber).
Last year as a Halloween prop, I picked up Force FX Anakin Skywalker Lightsaber as part of a Revenge of the Sith promotional sale at Borders for $99 USD -- it's on sale at KB toys for $80 now, along with the Force FX Darth Vader Lightsaber.
I had originally bought all 3 -- red, blue and green lightsaber, but I ended up returning the red and green ones because after playing with the blue one, the red (Darth Vader) and the green (Luke Skywalker) seemed of lesser quality due to the amount of plastic used for the Darth Vader lightsaber (almost all the black bits on the lightsaber is the same type of plastic that I associate with plastic buckles and luggage handles), and the lack of worksmanship in the Luke Skywalker Lightsaber (the handle is metal, but it's a matte finish rather than a chrome one, and the black is painted on). The Darth Maul lightsabers, sadly look to be the same matte metal finish as the Luke Skywalker blades, though I haven't seen it in person yet.
The Mace Windu Lightsaber (which I've tried out) is similar in build quality as the Anakin blade -- mostly chromed metal.
These lightsabers are great -- the "blade" telescopes upward (an improvement from the original model of the Force FX lightsabers which just switched on), and they make the appropriate sound effect for when they are switched on and off, the hum of the blade, and a couple of different blade striking sounds.The Force FX lightsabers are what we all wish we had when we were kids running around with wrapping paper rolls or flashlights and making whooshing sounds.



Backward Compatibility in Games


Peter Moore, VP of Microsoft's gaming division, gave a interview with Kikizo Games, making the following claim:

    "Nobody is concerned anymore about backwards compatibility. We under promised and over delivered on that. It's a very complicated thing... very complex work. I'm just stunned that we have hundreds of games that are backwards compatible."
    He added: "more are coming, but at some point, you just go, there's enough, let's move on, or people aren't as worried about a game being backwards compatible - and I like to think we've upheld our end of the bargain in making at least two or maybe three hundred games backwards compat."

I think backwards compatibility is one of those features that has to be done right in order to benefit the gamer. The compatibility on the Xbox360 is done incorrectly -- because they rely on software patches to make the games work, which will require code modification at some point by a programmer somewhere, the backwards compatibility comes at quite a price, but when it's done right, when such modifications are done in the hardware initially, the cost of adding backwards compatibility is minimal (as it was with the Playstation and Playstation 2). The Xbox unfortunately doesn't really have many games that would be considered "classics". With the emphasis on graphics rather than gameplay, the number of games destined to be classics and actually having the timeless nature neccessary are few. He's right that people don't care about whether a game is backward compatible or not -- but that's more reflective of their game choices in publishing -- the emphasis on the Xbox is graphics -- the reason to upgrade to the latest version of a game is not because of new gameplay innovations, but rather because the graphics are better -- and given the choice between playing Dead or Alive 3 (Xbox) or Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360) most games with an Xbox 360 are going to prefer the one that makes full use of their system rather than the old version of the game.
I think having an actual game library that can benefit from backwards compatibility is more important than simply listing backwards compatibility. Nintendo's Wii has it done right -- while it's not really backwards compatible (as far as I know), they are putting the old classics up available for download, and that's definitely worth something.

A new discovery in Quantum science


What happens when you take a purple pigment from those ancient terra cotta warriors in China, subject it to high magnetic fields, and low Kelvin temperatures? It undergoes a matter transformation that occurs at the Quantum Critical Point where
Han Purple undergoes dimensional reduction and changes from 3D to 2D.

    "The magnetic waves in the pigment exist in a unique state of matter called a Bose Einstein condensate (BEC), so named for its theoretical postulation by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein. In the BEC state, the individual waves (associated with magnetism from pairs of copper atoms in BaCuSi206) lose their identities and condense into one giant wave of undulating magnetism. As the temperature is lowered, this magnetic wave becomes sensitive to vertical arrangement of individual copper layers, which are shifted relative to each other -" a phenomenon known as "geometrical frustration." This makes it difficult for the magnetic wave to exist in the third up-down dimension any longer, and leads to a change to a two-dimensional wave, in very much the same way as ripples are confined to the surface of a pond. "

Car Link Roundup


BMW Europe ad: "That's Why We Don't Have Front Wheel Drives"
Cars Video Podcast

I'm beginning to look forward to the movie.
Transformers Live Action Movie Set Pictures

Apparently in the movie, Bumblebee will be a yellow Chevy Camaro instead of the traditional Volkwagen Beetle, and get into a fight with the Decepticon Brawl (Black Ford Mustang). I'm guessing that Chevy paid a pretty penny to get their Camaro placed against Ford's Mustang -- it's a battle that will happen in showrooms across the nation next year.