Archive for December, 2007

NYE 2007

Ok, I am lame. It is New Year’s Eve and I am at home alone drinking beer and eating instant noodles, and nothing even slightly wacky is happening. I’m in a vaguely reflective mood so maybe I will try to get some perspective by skimming back over the year and picking out some key events…

  • I got sick – This was a bummer but didn’t really have a big impact on the rest of my year, it just wiped me out for a few weeks and left me wobbly for a few more.
  • I turned 35 – Something of a nonevent, but marks a psychological milestone since it now puts me closer to 40 than 30. This is still rather hard for me to believe, because I am just so damn young at heart.
  • I got fat – but then, who didn’t? Since I noticed this I’ve already lost a few kilos again and as long as I keep in mind my decision to replace at least some of my chocolate biscuit intake with fruit I think I’ll be on track to drop a few more.
  • John Howard finally lost an election (and how!) – this really was and still is a surprisingly big relief. To be honest I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about his economics, but the regressive social policy of the man ironically referred to as Honest John was horrible to witness.
  • I got a Mac – Still quite glad of this, and am even looking forward to seeing whether the rumours of a new ultra portable PowerBook are true.
  • I had a girlfriend (no links, she is a very private person) – We were together for about 4 months, and it was very nice while it lasted (and it made a big difference to me while I was in hospital). We’re still good friends, and it was handy to learn that I can survive being dumped without completely losing my self-esteem.

So how did I go with my resolutions for 2007? Not so great…

  1. I did get a Mac, but didn’t port any of my apps. Also I opened GarageBand, like, once maybe.
  2. I did get fat
  3. I did not get my shit together. eg I am wayyyy behind on my tax again and still have piles of envelopes to open related to banking, insurance etc. How great it would be to have a PA

I will try to be more specific about resolutions for 2008– it seems appropriate to come up with at least 5.

Now I’m going to watch Children of Men, a movie I have seen exactly once, just over a year ago, and yet it remains my favourite movie of the last year. I never wrote much about it when I saw it, because it’s not a movie that’s easy to describe without making it sound like something less than it is. The beautiful futuristic melancholy of it will go down very nicely tonight.

Poor man’s Depth of Field effect

If you ever need to take a portrait style picture of yourself– say for Facebook or maybe some lame-o online dating site that only a desperate loser would ever resort to– one way to make yourself stand out from the background is to purchase a hideously expensive special lens for your hideously expensive digital SLR camera.

Another much cheaper alternative involves the use of a regular compact camera and a swivel chair:

  1. Sit on swivel chair
  2. Hold camera at standard awkward arm’s length
  3. Hold shutter button down halfway to lock focus
  4. Give the chair a spin
  5. Hold as still as you can and take the shot while chair is still spinning (and try to time it so you don’t have light source directly behind or in front of you)
  6. Be careful standing up, because you’re probably dizzier than you realize (you’re not twelve years old anymore)

I was concentrating quite hard for the first one. Using a monopod would probably be helpful for getting less blur in the face for higher resolution shots, since you could prop it against the chair to keep it relatively stable.

As you can see I have yellow hair again (In these shots it is more orangey because it is still wet). This time I’m not going to bother trying to tint it to get rid of the yellow since it just ends up making my hair look kind of like grey straw.

Review: The Golden Compass

*** SPOILSPORT ALERT ***

What is the frikkin deal with CGI monkeys? Ever since Jumanji they have looked like shit, and always seem less believable than any other animated animal. Perhaps it’s because of their human-like traits; the more human the animal the more sensitive we may be to flaws in appearance and movement.

Compare this miniature computer generated Dr. Zaius (Mrs Coulter’s unnamed golden monkey daemon) to the fabulously real monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and you can see there’s still a long way to go.

The other daemons are for the most part superb, especially Pantalaimon in cat and mongoose form, and really serve to break up what otherwise might be stuffy exposition scenes with people sitting around a table. It’s great watching them padding into a room behind their respective humans, deftly avoiding being trodden on and apparently attracting no special attention.

Ok, so apart from the daemons… The story seems to follow the book pretty closely, although it ends at a slightly different spot (which is understandable but somewhat annoying). Lyra is very well cast, being a little rough looking (you can actually imagine her beating up other kids) and Daniel Craig as Azriel would be great if he were on screen for more than 30 seconds. Nicole Kidman is so-so as Mrs Coulter (especially when she pretends to reach out and hold mini-Zaius).

The main criticism I have for The Golden Compass, which I have already heard elsewhere, is that the movie does feel rather rushed… in order to include all the major plot points there never seems to be much of a pause for breath. I think it could have easily been 45 minutes longer to allow better establishment of the world of the College and the Magisterium (which is still very obviously a version of the Catholic church), and to allow the characters time to get to know each other a bit.

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(images nicked from this article)

Mr Consumer

Since I’m such a lonely single bastard, my xmas shopping this year consisted mostly of buying junk for myself. Some things I have bought in the last month:

  • Seagate external 500GB drive. I was long overdue for an increase in external storage, but have had a few issues while moving stuff about (see previous post). In theory I will have this set up to store documents in an encrypted disk image and media etc on the main drive, but right now I’m suspecting that FAT32 was not a smart decision for the underlying format. I’ll probably reformat as HFS+ just to maximize Mac compatibility.*
  • Cheapie PC drawing tablet. The old Wacom is just too big and weirdly shaped, I wanted something smaller and flatter so I bought a cheapie one (branded DSE), which uses a battery in the stylus, has no "eraser" button but apart from that works fine. Also I figure it’s good to try Jujusketch with a few different devices. So I’m bound to draw a picture on that any time now.
  • Apple USB Keyboard, ie the new flat aluminium one that goes with the iMac. Quite nice and seems superior in build quality to my previous Apple keyboard. If I could find a dead simple PC keyboard which didn’t rearrange the insert and printscreen keys for no good reason I would consider that instead, but unfortunately such things don’t seem to exist, thanks largely to Microsoft and Logitech leading the charge to see who can create the most retarded looking giant oval of plastic with the most superfluous media and function buttons.
  • Apple Wireless Mighty Mouse. Jesus, is it really called that? How could a company so concerned with being uber-stylish come up with this name…? Anyhow, it’s extremely good tracking-wise (unlike a lot of other mice I’ve used), and doesn’t have a blinding red light coming out the bottom, which is a nice change for an optical mouse. It’s a bit on the heavy side (uses 2 AA batteries, which is rare for small devices these days; they often have just 1 or 2 AAA cells) The buttonlessness of the thing also takes a little getting used to; When you first start using it, it defaults to single button mode (no right click – fucking DUH, Apple; right-click is useful and you know it!) but if you go to mouse preferences you can enable right-click. Only problem then is that the click determination seems to use some sort of touch sensitivity (rather than piezo/force sensors), so, if your index finger is resting even lightly on the left side, when you click on the right (no matter how decisively) it will register as a left click. This means that when I right click I actually have to lift my index finger from the mouse, which seems kind of stupid. The tiny scroll ball is quite nice with a grippy texture and gives the feeling of reasonably precise control. Oh yeah, the squeeze buttons seem like a horrible afterthought, extremely unergonomic; if I actually had to use them much I would expect an awful handcramp.
  • Cheapie RCA mini stereo to plug my iPod into. I was using some Logitech R-20 speakers, but they’re not very good, with far too much subwoofer action and hardly any midrange. Also this means I now have a radio! Of course, the only station I can bear to listen to is Radio New Zealand National, because it’s the only one that doesn’t have commercial DJ assholes yelling at me every 20 seconds with their stupid station promos. How can anyone listen to commercial radio anymore? These stations must survive solely on the telephone hold and automotive repair markets…

*UPDATE: I just spent more than 7 hours moving everything off this drive, reformatting it, then copying everything back again. Then, just as I was copying just a few extra bits and pieces onto it I accidentally kicked a cable and brought the thing crashing to the floor, killing it dead in an instant. So there goes the rest of the data on that drive. What’s especially fabulous about this is that just seconds earlier I deleted the temp copy I had made on a network drive at work, since obviously I don’t want to leave all my files lying around, and it was time for me to pack up and go home. Why the hell am I laughing right now? Granted, I have lost no crucial files, no source code, but I have lost about a day of my time as well as a hard drive and 200GB of media and software backup files, disk images etc. Oh poo.

To top it all off I suspect that dropping it on the floor as well as having already converted the packaging into a laptop stand could make it rather difficult getting the thing replaced under warranty.

Ohshit

Right now there is an engineer somewhere at Apple whose balls are mysteriously aching, in sympathy with the fact that I so badly wish to plant my foot between them. This 1GB encrypted disk image now appears to be a big collection of random bytes, which is a real shame because until a few minutes ago it held every single damn photo I’ve taken the last few months.

On top of being absolutely livid about lost data and time, I am now hellishly concerned that the same thing could happen to my home folder, which is likewise just an encrypted sparse image [AKA FileVault] that I must now assume is vulnerable to the same catastrophic failure.

Oh well, guess I’ll just have to back-up more often. Ha ha ha. Isn’t it funny when people say that, as though it’s actually a realistic expectation that the average person has means to back up 50GB+ on a regular basis?

… meanwhile, the next day…

Things that have failed so far:

  • Mounting (obviously)
  • Repairing unmounted volume with DiskUtil. I get the following:

    Translation: Your disk can not be fixed because it is broken.

  • Converting to another type of volume. My only option here was compressed DMG because theoretical maximum size of the original sparseimage was set to 250GB. Converting to unencrypted/compressed dmg file takes a very very long time, and leaves me with a second unmountable, unrepairable image.

Now that I at least have an unencrypted DMG there is possibly some tool out there that will let me me scan for content and retrieve at least some of my data, but I am too pissed off to continue with this just now. I’d rather just bitch about it.

The moral of this story: Some time, when you least expect it, your computer will screw you. Also, encrypted disk images (including FileVault) may have greater risks attached to their use than simply forgetting your password.

UPDATE: Just opened the original broken image file in Jujuedit, to discover that the last 99.999% of the content is set to zero. This is a bad bad thing, and I now believe it is extremely unlikely that I will find a tool to convert 1 billion zeros into anything remotely resembling my original files.

Fuck you Apple, fuck you very much.

God bless us, every one

Just because I’m a militant atheist doesn’t mean I can’t tear up at the end of a Muppet Christmas Carol… Michael Caine = best Scrooge EVAR!

And don’t forget it’s compulsory for everyone to watch It’s a Wonderful Life some time today.

Am I really so humorless?

Fake Steve Jobs has apparently pulled a double-fake by posting as his real self [Dan Lyons] and claiming that Apple has been trying to bribe him to shut down his parody site. Most people, including myself, assumed this was true when the story broke on sites like Techmeme, but it is becoming clear that is in fact just a new layer of fiction, and a sure-fire way to drive Dan’s traffic even higher. Personally I don’t think it’s particularly funny, and I feel kind of sorry for the well meaning readers who expressed real sympathy and support for his fictional predicament. Here’s an excerpt from a recent FSJ post titled God bless you for your support:

Friends, thanks for the outpouring of support. I’m pretty upset here. Actually I’m really upset. Fact is, for all my joking, I really love Apple products and, until now, or even still now I guess, I really love Apple as a company. Sounds silly, I know, but I’m one of those nuts who wears an "I visited the Mothership" T-shirt and feels a kind of kinship with the company. So this hurts. I mean I know it’s just business and these are just legal assholes doing their job. But still. It feels personal.

Why don’t I think it’s funny to make this stuff up? Well ok I kind of do, but I think it’s funny in a cruel way, so I can’t say: Wow, brilliant gag! Because I have always hated such gags in principle. They almost always rely on withholding information or simply lying to people, to later reveal what suckers they are for believing something which they had no real reason to doubt in the first place [although to be fair the FSJ saga gets more obviously silly as it progresses].

Here’s a post revealing the joke, along with a comment thread which is really starting to annoy me because the author appears to think I have no appreciation or understanding of satire. Being patronized is one of those things that I don’t respond well to, hence I thought better of continuing that conversation and decided it might be more interesting to wonder aloud why this fabricated chapter of the FSJ saga bugs me.

* cue sound of Yours Truly wondering *

Ah fuck it. Maybe it’s just really really funny when you make a bunch of people care about you and then laugh at them for being so gullible as to waste their concern on someone who couldn’t give a shit about any of them. Obviously I need to expand my personal understanding of satire…

Komputer Korner – December 2007

Some useful information which I have picked up recently:

  • If you use Parallels on an Intel Mac – and you really should – you can add a shared folder /Volumes and you will get a mapped drive holding all your mounted OSX volumes automatically, including dmg, sparse images, ssh volumes etc. For me this means that I can now see the file system on my iPod in WindowsXP even while it is connected and being synced in MacOSX. /Volumes is hidden in the Finder but you can type the name manually when adding a new shared folder in Parallels (and you don’t even have to close or restart Parallels)
  • The entire suite of fantastically useful/powerful SysInternals tools for Windows are available as a single package from Microsoft. If you have to deal with Windows at an even vaguely technical level, you really should be using these tools, especially ProcessExplorer and ProcessMonitor.
  • Safari has tabbed browsing, but it is turned off by default. How did I miss this? That’s the only reason I installed Firefox on MacOSX.
  • http://chart.apis.google.com/chart?cht=p3&chd=s:BCE&chs=200x80&chl=A|B|CGoogle has created the Google Chart API, which means you can get a nice simple chart rendering just by specifying the data in the URI. This means that people can stop writing their own crappy Sparkline implementations!
  • Super Remove Dead Tracks v2.0 is an AppleScript to scan your iTunes library and remove tracks that no longer exist on your hard drive. Why Apple neglected to include this UNBELIEVABLY OBVIOUS AND NECESSARY funtionality from iTunes I have no idea. Turns out about 20% of my library was missing, largely because of removed dupes, and now when I update my iPod it actually copies the tracks I expect.
  • If you have a MacBook then for God’s sake get 2GB of RAM and get it now! (not from Apple though, they will totally screw you on price) Since upgrading I notice the icons in the dock bounce just once now instead of three times when I start applications. It sucks that an OS should need more than a gigabyte just to run smoothly, but that’s just how it is these days. Except for Linux of course, but I’m not going there any time soon.

93 kg = I am too fat

According to standard calculations, my Body Mass Index of 28.7 is toward the upper end of the "overweight" category (25.0-29.9). This seems a bit harsh to me, since I don’t really feel like a fatty; just a little flabbier than I could be. In any case, I think it’s time I acted to reverse this slow and steady increase in flab, which is I know is only going to get worse as I slide towards 40…

And so, for the record, I hereby declare that I will lose at least 10 kilograms (22 lb) within the next 6 months, preferably getting down to 80 kilograms (176 lb), which would take me back into the "normal" weight range. After careful consideration and consultation with numerous experts, I have identified three actions that would probably have the biggest impact on my weight:

  1. Stop eating chips/fries
  2. Stop eating chocolate
  3. Exercise!

Morons, Part II

[UPDATE: This entry probably comes off as incredibly mean-spirited, and this may have something to do with me being rather sleep-deprived and irritable today. I'm at home and eating toast now, which seems to be lifting my spirits no end]

One of the dumbest things I’ve encountered in the last few days is this website run by a guy who thinks the entire universe is only a few thousand years old, and attempts to justify this belief with random cribbed equations, citing Schrodinger and others into the bargain. This is one of the worst kinds of stupid, because the guy is wasting his time searching for scientific literature to justify his belief that God made everything approximately 6000 years ago. This fervent search for any scraps he can find to justify a groundless hypothesis, all the while discounting the vast bulk of human knowledge in the fields of physics, geology, cosmology, biology and even archaeology is what marks him as a moron, as opposed to just plain wrong.

According to Mr Moron, this First Fundamental Theorem of Intelligent Design was "derived by the renowned physicists John Barrow a[nd] Frank Tipler from Schrodinger′s equation of quantum mechanics."

I’m not sure if this impressive picture of some mathematical notation from a book is supposed to be the theorem itself, or merely the equation whence it sprung. Although apparently it does predict the existence of the Judeo-Christian God.

When not attributing rape, murder, cannibalism, horse-fucking etc to Darwinism, Mr Moron likes to point out just how stupid the original Darwinist was:

Darwinism does not hold a candle to the series of equations listed below. This is real science versus mindless Darwinism. There is more science represented in these equations than Ed Brayton or Liz Craig, or for that matter Charles Darwin ever comprehended.

He then goes on to display a few more equations which are possibly related to Fourier transforms, an invaluable tool in signal analysis. I am inclined to agree with him that Darwin would probably not have known what to make of these, but then Darwin was a biologist and not a mathematician, and advanced signal analysis hardly seems relevant to his scientific contributions.

9/10 on the moron scale.

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HAVE YOU’RE SAY!!!What the stupidest thing you’ve encountered this week?

Everyone else in the entire world is a moron

Supporting evidence for my hypothesis:

  • The writers of second season of Heroes are so incompetent that they have managed to make me retrospectively hate the first season, which I had originally quite enjoyed. The basic premise for Heroes season 2 is that all the characters forget everything they learned from the first season and run about behaving like utter douchebags. They get angry at the wrong things, they trust the wrong people, they forget to use their powers at crucial times. It is so dumb it makes the later seasons of the X-Files seem like high art.
  • Sherri Shepherd is co-host of a US television show, and yet she is so unbelievably stupid that she believes Christianity predates everything and doesn’t know whether or not the Earth is flat.
  • The advertising I see here in New Zealand seems to consistently need to have narration added, leading me to believe that we are all so stupid that we can’t understand subtext* And now there’s a service which lets you bypass the actual content and just watch ads online for “mint dollars” STUPID!
  • Publishers of most webcomics tend to provide RSS feeds without images and so even though I try to subscribe, I’ll never notice their new comics when they update. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to them to at least provide a preview image, and I can only assume this is because they too are morons.
  • Feature stickers on big screen televisions in consumer electronic stores which betray the complete technical ignorance of the staff. Full HD Ready 1024 + 76 DPI!
And on a slightly less facetious note, it does trouble me greatly that large numbers of people still believe one or more of the following, even in an age which gives the average bozo in the street access to more knowledge than scholars in previous ages could have dreamed about:
  • Atheism makes people do bad things
  • Astrology is useful
  • Bumblebees fly despite the fact that science says it is impossible
  • God created man and all the animals in more or less the forms we know today– meaning evolution is just a giant atheistic conspiracy to discredit the teachings of the bible
  • Aliens have visited the Earth and the governments have been covering it up
  • John Edward can talk to dead people, learning all about the initials and favorite nick-nacks of loved ones
  • Uri Geller can bend spoons with his mind
  • Homeopathy is more than a placebo
  • 9/11 was an inside job
  • People will go to hell if they don’t embrace the one correct religion
  • Reincarnation allows people to live multiple lives (but only if they are historically interesting)
  • Everything happens for a reason (ie events are part of a grand plan, rather than a logical sequence of cause and effect)
  • Crop circles are created by Aliens (or some other non-human agency)
  • Oil companies bought out and covered up the technology to run a car on water
  • Vaccinating children can cause autism
  • Spontaneous Human Combustion (ok so maybe people don’t still believe in this, but it was big in the 80’s [CORRECTION: Yes they do apparently])
  • Global warming isn’t happening
  • Global warning is happening but it has nothing to do with us, and is in fact a Marxist conspiracy to destroy free-market capitalism, the greatest force for good that has ever existed

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* Some examples of moronic advertising in New Zealand:

  • Stupid Rexona Antiperspirant ad… first version of the ad was kind of cute, boy meets girl, montage of shots of them dating, spoiled only by the firehose spray of sweat coming out from under his arms. Second version has girl describing to camera how sweat would spray from under his arms, totally detroying the whole visual gag by referring to it directly.
  • Stupid Euro Chocolates ad… again, first run was at least slightly stylish, and had no dialogue– The whole story was told in images and music. Sensual young woman comes home to run-down apartment building and her mere presence appears to bring life back to her fellow residents, who suddenly feel like dancing and singing and shagging, and her magic comes from eating brand X chocolate. The second run added a stupid voiceover, explaining that this was exactly what was going on, because we were clearly too goddam thick to work it out for ourselves.
  • Stupid “V” energy drink ad… these ads suck anyway, but adding a stupid sniggering narrator telling us what is going on makes them even worse. One of these animated commercial spots begins with a bouncy-titted girl crying hysterically while her skeezy boyfriend glowers at her from across the room, no doubt annoyed that she won’t stop bawling when all he did was give the stupid bitch a slap. Hahaha.
  • Stupid radio contest/campaign… the prize is to live rent-free for a year, and somehow it is implied this will lead to bikini clad women cramming into your house to be showered by trampolining midgets, because apparently having subsidized rent for a year makes you a magnet for this kind of thing. This is a campaign developed by morons, for morons. But then, it’s hosted by a commercial FM radio station, so no frikkin surprises there. Actually this is not narration related but is just so unbelievably stupid I felt I had to squeeze it in here, and the ad for this campaign was voiced by the same chortling fucknut who does the aforementioned V ad, which is why I thought of it just now.

Auckland Skyline

Doesn’t do it justice– it really was a beautiful evening. I wasn’t planning any more shots that day but was driving home along the waterfront and seeing this I felt I had to pull over and take some photos.