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Jan. 28th, 2009

tardis

A great day for Canadians...

NDP Leader Jack Layton: "We have a new coalition now on Parliament Hill: It's a coalition between Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff ... Today we have learned that you can't trust Mr. Ignatieff to oppose Mr. Harper. If you oppose Mr. Harper and you want a new government, I urge you to support the NDP."

LONG LIVE THE COALITION!  Poor sad Jack Layton.  We don't want a new government.  NOBODY DID.  What we wanted was a FUNCTIONING government, which is what we now appear to have.

He never understood, never had the foresight to see just a little into the future.  He must suck at chess.  The coalition was a threat, a fantasy from inception.  There is no way a coalition government with Stephane Dion at the helm would have ever taken power in this country.  Just wasn't going to happen.  Given the outcome of most polls (the AG would have to take popular opinion into account when deciding on a coalition vs. election) the result would've been an election.  With Dion at the helm, the Liberals would've been decimated and there wouldn't be enough of anyone left for a coalition government.

Enter Michael Ignatieff, who for the sake of the Liberal party is much smarter than his predecessor.  Knowing that popular opinion was against the coalition he made the right decision -- to wait and see what the budget held before arbitrarily torpedoing it.  Layton didn't care what was in it -- it wasn't a matter of confidence, it was an old man grasping at his last chance to see any power in his lifetime.  Don't get me wrong, before this whole debacle, I rather liked Jack.  He seemed like a nice guy, a bit too far too the crazy-hippie side for me politically, but it seemed like his heart was in the right place.

The other important factor that Ignatieff included in his calculations was public opinion over torpedoing the budget itself.  Things to consider;

  1. The budget accomplished much of what the Liberals wanted to see.
  2. The economy is swirling down the toilet much faster than many expected.
  3. The general opinion is that significant stimulus is needed as soon as possible, eg. now.

All of these factors combined would've provided significant ammo to the Conservatives in an election scenario.  "Hard working Canadians need help now.  Our proud Canadian cities need help now.  What have the Liberals done to help?  They voted against a budget that achieved what they wanted, triggered an election, and made all Canadians wait months before any sort of help could be expected."

The optics are incredibly bad in that scenario.  It would have looked like they sunk it just to grab power.  With a wild-eyed Jack Layton riding their backs all the way to Ottawa screaming "yahoo!" there would be little to dissuade people from coming to the obvious conclusion.

Ignatieff is a very smart guy.  He may not have risen to power in the traditional way, but the Liberals got who they needed this time, rather than the choice least objectionable to everyone.

Jan. 9th, 2009

tardis

Router fun...

As I'm sure all of you have experienced at one time or another, most consumer routers suck.  If you do a search for reviews on pretty much any router out there, you'll see people bitching that it sucks for various reasons.  No vendor is immune, either -- you'll see it for Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and even Apple.

Surprisingly, the hardware in most of these routers is fairly standardized.  There are a few chipsets everyone uses, and the hardware functionality is usually very similar.  Most of them run a stripped down version of Linux.

The most common problem of all is rebooting.  Many routers after a week (some more, some less) lock up or slow down to a point where they are unusable.  Many exhibit extremely unpredictable behavior before crapping out entirely -- certain port forwards don't work, DHCP doesn't work properly, some pages won't load, etc.

My previous router, a Netgear WPNT834 was touted as being one of the best routers around at the time.  The benchmarks all said it was fast, and P2P sites said it supported up to 180 simultaneous TCP connections.  It does -- but once you get past that, it doesn't let you know, and I have a feeling it just starts randomly overwriting it's internal memory with the info for connections above 180.

And it gets worse, not only did the router have lockup problems in that way, but sometimes you'd not be able to access the web interface for it.  And on rare occasions, it would forget you'd ever set it up in the first place.  It still had the settings and still worked, but if you went into the web interface you were greeted with the "stupid persons easy setup wizard" instead of the actual interface.  The only way to get it working normally again would be to clear the NVRAM and reboot the modem, meaning I had to reconfigure the entire thing from scratch.

Now, you may say, "Woah! I don't have nearly that many connections, EVER."  If you said that, there is a strong possibility you are wrong.  That's what I thought as well, that only BitTorrent or something similar would ever push you up that high.  With the new router I'm using, I've discovered that my desktop, which has nothing heavy running on it all (the only app I thought might be heavy was MSN) had over 130 active connections.  That left 50 for BT (running on a separate machine) which is practically useless.  Apparently, overall, I average 300-400 connections across all the devices on my LAN.

Doing research to find a replacement router that wouldn't mess up with large numbers of connections, I found myself at an impasse.  Every router I researched had a 40-50% rating from users, all complaining of the usual ailments.  There were a group of people who reported little to no problems of this kind -- and they were running Linksys models with third-party firmware.  I'm not a fan of Linksys in general, so I decided to do a little research, and found there were many alternatives.

In the end, I ended up going with an ASUS WL-500G Premium V2 and firmware from dd-wrt.com.  The reason was that it was cheap (around $100), third-party firmware-friendly, had 32MB of RAM (so it could handle a large number of connections) and 8MB of Flash for the firmware (which enables me to run the mega version of DD-WRT which has the most features).  DD-WRT usually supports everything the routers original firmware did, and more.  In this case, it still supports USB attached storage, and even adds BT support into the router (so it can download torrents and store them on the local USB HD).  Plus the port forwarding, QoS, VPN, DHCP, access control and bandwidth control options are greatly expanded.

Installation was _very_ simple, just unpack the router, install the ASUS Recovery Utility, upload the latest DD-WRT firmware into it, reboot and configure.  I never even looked at the original ASUS interface or connected to it before upgrading it.

So far, everything has worked infinitely better than with the old Netgear.  My FTP port forwarding now works reliably (before, some of my customers could connect to it, and some could not -- for no apparent reason), the user interface on the router is fast as hell and just works, I upped BitTorrent to use 500 connections max and the router is handling it swimmingly.  Wireless now works reliably and clients aren't disconnected randomly.

Normally, I'm not up for this kind of "hacking" type stuff, but in this case, it all paid off and really wasn't that much work.  If you need a new router and aren't interested in yet another crappy consumer router -- I highly recommend DD-WRT.  It works with hundreds of different routers from different manufacturers, the web interface is incredible and is usually very easy to install (check their list of supported devices to be sure it'll work, and that it's not too hard to install on that device.)

Jan. 8th, 2009

tardis

Other bemusements...

Apple's latest patent...  on a perverse glove.  Check the bottom of the page.  Yes, now you can use your iPhone when you're too much of a wuss to take off your gloves (or get a phone with real, actual buttons.)

A video game based on Grey's Anatomy?  Sure, why not.  If you look at the massive amounts of shovelware coming out each week for Wii and DS, it's not surprising this title is for Wii, DS and PC.  I've always wanted a game where I could perform a very shallow simulation of surgery on someone, and then proceed to fuck everyone in the operating room (now that's romance!).

Even though it's ancient news, the stories coming out of Carleton University about their student union dumping Cystic Fibrosis as a charity because the disease didn't affect anyone but white men were quite amusing.  I mean, what the hell difference does it make who the disease affects?  Rex Murphy had a great take on it in this Globe article.  I love Rex, and here's a quote:

"Well, shiver my multicultural timbers. Next time I catch a flu, I'm not going to the doctor. I'm going to ask to see its papers. If my poor hack fit is not at the very least polyethnic in origin, bisexual in tendency, and unless I'm sneezing in at least three languages other than English, then I'll know this is just that damn white man's cough and just shut up about it."

Not that I'm entirely surprised at their decision.  After all, the university life and curriculum has an unfortunate tendency to brainwash students into the stupidly liberal category (which isn't surprising, as voter data from the recent US election clearly shows, the younger you are, the more liberal you are).  They get so PC-crazed they can't even think straight -- which leads to the inevitable conclusion of them humiliating themselves publicly in a dazzling show of idiocy.

tardis

MacWorld keynote/Jobs illness, etc.

Whilst upsetting to many, the keynote was interesting from a couple of perspectives.  Many seem perturbed at the lack of hardware introductions (specifically the absence of a Mac Mini update, which I agree is looong overdue), although as the comments at the end of this Ars Technica article indicate, the more rabid Mac Fanboys are more easily impressed.  (ps. I love the cartoon someone posted in the comments: "Too bad.  I bet Apple was excited about unveiling the thinnest, lightest CEO in the industry.")

Analysts called the keynote "underwhelming" and "not eventful."  Indeed.  A bunch of boring, minor updates to Apples versions of Microsoft Works apps.  Oh, and a 17" MBP which uses new battery technology already in use by other companies, but of course, now re-invented by Apple (they don't reuse technology, they only invent it.)  Also, the final nail in Firewires coffin as well, as the new MBP sports a whopping zero ports.  Personally, I found Firewire to be a useless standard that just cost me extra money when I had the original iPod.  Not that USB is any better, I despise that "standard" for a multitude of other reasons I won't get into.

Personally, I think the lack of significant announcements is a good thing, at least for Apple.  People who love Apple won't really care, it won't affect their buying patterns (a classic example, “I’ll buy just about anything if it’s shiny and made by Apple,” from the hilarious MacBook Wheel video).  More importantly though, this will give them time to clean up existing products, and perhaps take more time and care with the new products they are working on.  Lately, I've seen a lot of comments from disgruntled ex- or soon to be ex-Apple users about the declining quality of the products.  This is bound to happen in a company of any size that releases new products on a fixed schedule -- think about the gaming industry, when asked when a release will be available, the good companies always respond with, "when it's done." 

It'll also be better for Apple's bottom line, as they won't have people waiting to purchase items announced at fixed times.  They won't know when to buy, so many will end up buying a dead-ended product just before the replacement is announced.

And then there is the matter of the letter from Steve Jobs regarding his health.  A "hormone imbalance"?  It took sophisticated blood tests to reveal a problem obvious to anyone with eyes, ears and a brain?  The guy has had this hormonal imbalance since the early 80's.

It is also quite clear from the wording of the letter that they are being deliberately vague about the actual problem, as was confirmed by Scientific Americans health experts.  Beyond that, Apple spokespeople says no further information is forthcoming.  This is not only unfortunate, but also unwise.  Some stupid people will say that Steve Jobs health is of no concern to anyone but himself, but sadly, these people are after all, stupid.

There is a price premium on Apples shares of 15-25% solely because Jobs is CEO.  Were something to happen to him, Apple would shed billions of dollars in market cap in a very, very short period of time.  As such, Jobs health is materially relevant to all Apple stockholders, and must be disclosed.

Now, you could say that they've done that, but there are two important points to consider; 1. The letter is vague at best, and doesn't outline any possible future outcome, and 2. Apple has lied in the past, when they said it was "just a bug."  The latter is most important, as it may be enough ammo for the SEC to declare that Apple has breached disclosure rules.

And the last bit is just a funny observation from the MacWorld photos and user comments; the first comment states "Delicious Monster's booth is genius."  I find that hilarious, since the booth clearly depicts the reasons that their user interface is pointless (hint: it is not an efficient use of space to display books on a shelf side by side, front forward.)  Of course, the whole application itself is pointless, so I guess I shouldn't really be surprised.  Also not surprising: more employees in the booth than customers.

PS. I'll be releasing my new world-shattering software shortly, here's a hint, it's called "Insipid Bookcase."

Dec. 7th, 2008

tardis

Oh, Apple…

In response to the recent banning of yet another iPhone ad in the UK, Apple has basically come out and said that anyone who believed what they saw in the ad was an idiot.

“Plaintiff's claims, and those of the purported class, are barred by the fact that the alleged deceptive statements were such that no reasonable person in Plaintiff's position could have reasonably relied on or misunderstood Apple's statements as claims of fact.”

Yes, people see someone in an ad using an iPhone and quickly surfing multiple webpages couldn’t possibly or reasonably believe that was the actual performance of the phone.  Right.  Why would I think that what I’m seeing is an accurate representation of the product?  Silly me for thinking there were laws against false advertising.

It makes me wonder why Apple hasn’t learned yet.  This is the second time with the iPhone, and the third time (that I’m aware of) overall.  The first one was the “Power” Mac G5 in which they claimed it was the “worlds fastest personal computer”, which of course was completely false as there were always faster PCs available than any comparable Mac. 

The only people who defended Apple at the time were brain-dead artsy types who claimed that Mac was better for artistic endeavors such as Photoshop.  They wanted to think that they could have their cake and eat it too – eg. have a device that was simplistic enough for their tiny minds to grasp, yet somehow magically more powerful than a real computer.  To set things straight, we did benchmarks at that time for a computer supplement we were doing for Southam (20+ newspapers across Canada) comparing the Mac G5 and the P4 3.2GHz. In Photoshop we found that the P4 was on average 10-15% faster in nearly ever test we tried. 

Dec. 2nd, 2008

tardis

Unbelievable.

This whole coalition thing is completely unbelievable. 

The common argument I keep seeing thrown around is that the majority of Canadians didn’t vote for the Conservatives.  This is of course the dumbest, most specious argument I’ve heard.  Anyone who uses that argument has immediately gone tard in my books.

We don’t have a system of proportional representation in Canada.  The closest I’ve seen us get was a mixed-member proportional proposal here in Ontario, which was shot down on voting day by the mostly Liberal and NDP voters of Ontario.  Voters didn’t want it, so don’t be a moron and use the vote percentage argument.  That feeling you have is just the big hand of hindsight slapping you in the face.

Canadians voted for the Conservatives, and gave them a mandate – and sent a clear message to Stephane Dion: you’re a milquetoast bozo and we want no part of you.  That message was as clear as crystal, as we know, the Liberals had their worst showing in an election since confederation.  Good job guys, follow that up with a power grab whose optics make concrete look transparent.

I’m not going to argue that this proposal by the opposition is illegal, because it isn’t.  It is however, tantamount to a coup.  Perhaps not by strict definition, but most definitely by intent.  There have been murmurs that Jack Layton has been planning this since the day after the election (I won’t argue this point, as I heard it on the CBC – so who knows if it’s true or not).

I would hope that any Canadian with more than half of a functioning brain (and I mean the traditional left-side plus some of the right – but I’m not writing a treatise on the psychological lateralization of brain function) will realize that, at least at this point – this is about nothing other than revenge and seizing power.  While it may be true that provocation was proffered in the form of the cuts to party subsidies, etc those portions of the budget were redacted.  Now it’s about nothing more than bruised pride and a desire to reverse the democratic decision of Canadians.

Jack Layton is so eager to seize this opportunity, he’s practically shaking when he’s on camera.  Stephane Dion knows he’s history, but he also knows the internally perceived legacy of the Liberal party: entitlement.  Liberals always know better than you do, and they should be the only ones allowed to run the country.  Like many Liberals, he doesn’t really care who’s running things, as long as their stripe reflects the same wavelengths as his.

Hopefully we don’t end up with an unelected government comprised of a party that will do anything to seize what they believe is their manifest destiny, another composed of inexperienced communists whose governing track record is, put nicely, lackluster – and of course with veto power being held by a third party whose reason for existing is the dismantling of this great country.

With any luck, the Governor General will call an election.  With a little more luck, it’ll end up paralleling the non-confidence motion that the NDP and Progressive Conservatives passed in 1974 – which resulted in a majority comeback for the incumbent Liberals under Trudeau.  The added value in that equation was the NDP losing half its seats – one of which belonged to their leader, David Lewis.

In the end, you can look at this any way you want.  It’ll turn out however fate sees fit.   At the very least, hopefully Harper will learn a lesson about provoking the opposition, although I think he’s learned that lesson no matter how this turns out.

Nov. 18th, 2008

tardis

Wii GH:WT now red-headed stepchild

Apparently, some of the track packs for GH:WT won’t be available as DLC for the Wii version.  Actually, NO track packs will be available, because for some bizarre reason the Wii can’t handle bundled songs, only individual tracks.  I can’t imagine why, but that’s how it is.  Apparently the Rock Band extra tracks were released as a separate title, so this isn’t an Activision thing.

I just love a couple of the comments on this article though;

Ah, the Wii. Smashing console sales across the board with a sub-par, underwhelming gaming experience.  God bless you, Nintendo, you lower the bar daily.” -- Very nice – I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Those God damn motherfuckign cocksuckers. Sure, the Wii, will support DLC. It won't be like our previous fuckups. More details?  Silence...  Then this.  Nevermind.  Fuckers. Guess it's time to get a 360 finally.” -- Finally?  Should’ve started there, dude.  Why get a tiny pink bike with a flower-shaped bell and training wheels when you could ride a Harley?  Duh!

I do find it puzzling though that Wii Music hasn’t sold more than it has.  Judging from the (mostly negative) reviews, it would seem like a natural fit for the console – and one that should make fans of non-games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit drool in anticipation.  The most fitting comment was the first one;

Add the game to musical education? How is that possible? All you do is shake your hands like your hailing a cab, for most instruments. How are kids going to learn from that? Nintendo has their heads too far up their asses to see that this game is basically a flop, and has NO educational merit either.

Educational merit aside, most of the reviews I’ve read indicate this is a typical Wii non-game.  You wave the controller around randomly and win.  Wow.  Fun.  Sounds to me like the videogame equivalent of the prevailing sentiment in education these days – which is that teachers should never fail a child because it’s detrimental to their mental health.  Yeah, and letting stupid kids grow into stupid adults and graduate when they don’t know anything – that’s really going to help them maintain their mental hygiene in the real world.  But I digress.

tardis

People in general amuse me

In this particular case, those who criticized Vista for DRM-related reasons.  I don’t know if you remember, but when Vista was released, one of the things people were most harsh about was the new DRM, primarily the protected video path and HDCP.  Everyone swore they wouldn’t use Vista for this reason, some even went clinically insane and bought a Mac.

There were quite obviously those who believed that they’d not be able to play any video files without buying an HDCP-enabled monitor and video card.  Of course, this assumption was completely erroneous.  It was also unfair to blame Microsoft for this, as I’m sure they’d much rather allocate programming resources elsewhere than useless DRM.  If those early critics wanted to blame someone, they should blame the content producers.

Apple users are now feeling that biting feeling in the assal region, with articles like this one (and this one).  The comments are interesting, and mostly a regurgitation of the same things that people were spewing around the Vista launch.  They blame Apple for the content protection, not realizing that it’s the content vendors who are mandating this garbage.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see Apple get a bad rap from it’s own users, but at the same time, I laugh at the stupid fucks who are complaining.  Honestly, that’s what you get for being a dumbass who buys that low quality iTunes garbage.  Haven’t you people learned yet?  How long will it take? 

As the great Clare Boothe Luce said: No good deed goes unpunished.  Words to live by, my friends.  By buying legitimate movies, television shows, music and software you are screaming a clear message to those content producers: I LOVE DRM!  Is that the message you want to send?  Do you want to spend your life figuring out which devices can play the media you’ve purchased?  You must.  You must enjoy finding about that Company X has decided to stop running their licensing server and all the media you bought from them is now worthless.  Or perhaps you’ve decided on a portable media player from a company other than your current one – only to find out it’s time to rebuild your entire collection of foolishly purchased DRM laden music (at god knows what cost).

The moral of the story is: the only people that suffer as a result of DRM are those who pay for media.  The pirates can get whatever they want, whenever they want it, in whatever format they like and play it anywhere at any time.  On Vista, on a Mac, on any portable media player.

Send the right message, quit feeding the beast.  Eventually, they’ll realize their mistake and give up on the DRM thing.  The music and game industries are finally beginning to realize this, and it won’t be long before Hollywood follows suit.

Nov. 16th, 2008

tardis

Guitar Hero World Tour…

… is awesome.  I’ve had it for a few days now, and contrary to much of the negative press, it’s working flawlessly.  The game itself is extremely entertaining, although, of course, I would’ve included more classic rock songs and less modern detritus.

The drums are a blast, and if there still are problems with them, mine are working perfectly.  In some ways, playing the drums is easier than the guitar as you can more easily get into ‘the rhythm of the song’.  With the addition of the cymbals, it’s also a much better approximation of the real experience than the guitar is.  Plus, I’d be willing to bet that being good at the drums in this game is a skill that might actually translate to the real thing (at least, moreso than with the guitar).

The new guitar is nice too, and the fact that all this stuff is wireless and works with the built-in wireless of the 360 is a great bonus too.  And I don’t need to stuff my useless white presentation pointer into them to make them work either.  The touchpad on the guitar is great fun when you’re presented with ‘slider notes’. 

The vocals portion of the game is also a lot of fun for people who aren’t me.  For some reason, I’m always off by about a half a note and just can’t seem to ‘lock on’ as it were.

Most of the songs are tons of fun, although it seems to me that in some cases the note layouts were designed by different people with entirely different mindsets on how it should be.  Some songs (at the same difficulty) are nice and easy, and occasionally you get one that makes it seem as though you accidentally picked the highest difficulty.  Case in point: the Tool songs.  I love Tool, and so I was looking forward to these.  Two out of three of them were absurdly hard, and the other one was a piece of cake.  Bizarrely inconsistent, but I suppose it’s good to have a built-in break.

Coming from the PS2 version of GH3, I’d have to say (not surprisingly) that the graphics in this one are light years ahead.  There still doesn’t seem to be an option to turn off all the background crap and pop-up messages that constantly distract me from what I’m trying to accomplish, but I’m getting used to it (again).

tardis

Silly douchebags…

Check out this hilarious short news tidbit on FiringSquad, and the source article

The comments are insightful and amusing (on FS, nobody cares enough on the original site to comment apparently).  Basically, this douchebag VP at Apple claims that “PSP and DS are ‘in the past’” and that the iPhone is the new big thing in gaming.  Now, for people who don’t care about the game having any usable controls (perhaps Wii owners for example) I’m sure it has some appeals.  But for real gamers who actually want to be able to control what is going on in the game, and not just be present while the experience unfolds – it’s not going to happen.

He claims that the big selling point here is electronic distribution of games.  On the iPhone, the selling points are lower due to reduced distribution and licensing costs.  While this might be true, the quality of the games are usually much lower as well.  Typically speaking, a port is often impossible as well due to the iPhones extremely limited input capabilities.

One big point that is missed is cost.  The iPhone is substantially more expensive than either the PSP or the DS.  I pity any child whose parents are so stupid that they’d buy their child an iPhone (and a 3 year commitment to said phone).  Why do I pity the child?  Because said parents are probably just below the intelligence threshold required to remember to feed that child.  Most kids I know these days are getting the cheapest phone around, and if they have an mp3 player, it’s usually some $50 (or less) cheapie that is damned near disposable.  Kids/teens are not compatible with the iPhone or even the iPod for that matter, as they are routinely lost or stolen and most parents can’t afford a new $200+ device for their kids every other week.  In many schools these days, a device like that paints a nice crosshair target on the kids forehead and makes them fodder for bullies.  (Oh, and even if the parents DID buy their child an iPhone, are they really going to just set the kid loose in the App Store with their credit card?  I think not.)

The other big point that all the commenters seem to miss, as do the writers of the articles, and the Apple douchebag – the battery life.  If you’re playing any game that even remotely taxes the hardware (not hard from what I’ve read/heard) your battery life is going down the toilet.  Considering that someone may replace their GPS, phone, mp3 player and game unit all with a single device whose battery can’t be swapped out, you may end up half way to another province/state with none of the above available to you.

Some of the choice comments;

Obviously this guy has never tried actually playing games on an iPhone. I have to use one (my dept. was assigned them) and between the cluttered interface, unresponsive touchscreen, constant dropped calls, and lack of any real IT-related use, it is a hot iron in my side to have to carry it around.

Apple: For people who don't like making their own decisions.

Apple obviously doesn't read up on their competition. The PSP can get games downloaded via the PlayStation store, and the new DS-i has a built-in SD expansion slot that can save games from Nintendo's new online games store. Both of them have Skype capabilities, and both can now play MP3's. I'm just tired of Apple bashing anything that isn't their products. I won't ever buy an Apple product based on their Douchebag attitude.

Note: I didn’t cherry pick these comments.  There really were no positive comments.  I speculate this is because gamers aren’t sheep.  Typically, Apple users are like an clueless chick in Mystery’s headlights.  Except of course, for this performance, Mystery is portrayed by Steve Jobs.

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