Friday, December 30, 2005

SIRIUS Satellite radio status: ACTIVATED

The search
It took a bit of hunting to find both a receiver and corresponding home kit. Online, Crutchfield had the tuner but was out of stock of the home kit. Circuit City had both the tuner and home kit available for in-store pickup, but not at the same stores. The tuner was only available at a Circuit City store over 50 miles away. Best Buy was a similar story with an online in-store inventory check. It appeared, though, that in-store, Best Buy had the tuner and Circuit City had the home kit at stores in close proximity to each other and not too far from me, so I set off.

First stop was Best Buy and sure enough, they had the tuner but not the home kit. I bought something else at Best Buy (to be written about in a later post) and decided to wait on the tuner to see if Circuit City might have both items in-store. Walking to Circuit City I came across Magnolia Audio Video, which is a somewhat high-end audio / video store. I went in and they had both items.

The setup
Setup of the tuner and home kit was straightforward, but antenna placement can be a problem. The home antenna is about the size of a pager and must be near a window with an unobstructed view of the northern sky. Depending on where you are in the U.S. your direction may vary. The antenna is all-weather so it can be mounted outside, but routing a cable through a window and attaching it to the structure of my apartment just aren't worth the extra hassle. I've found a decent spot inside that has a fairly consistent signal, but it does occasionally fade out.

The tuner also has a built-in FM transmitter that broadcasts the signal to any radio within about 15 feet. I placed the tuner right in the middle of my place so the signal reaches my bedroom and kitchen radios.

Activation
Upon initial power-up the tuner updates all of the channels and tunes to an introductory sample program that prompts you to activate your account. This can be done online or by phone. Naturally, I chose online. Easy to do, just enter the tuner's serial number, your user and credit card info (you set up an account), choose the subscription plan you want and that's pretty much it. Once you submit this info the tuner is "activated." I received a message on the tuner confirming activation within about 10 seconds of submitting my info online.

Activation issues
There were two:
  1. $15 activation fee - this wasn't obvious to me until my credit card had been charged and the transaction was broken down into its elements. It's possible that in my zeal to activate I overlooked the fact that there was a fee, but I don't remember seeing it. Going back to sirius.com and looking at the terms and conditions the activation fee is right there. It's also in the FAQs. Always a good idea to RTFM, kids. Despite my zeal, I still feel that the activation process via the web did not make the fee or the agreement to the terms and conditions abundantly clear.
  2. Prorated balance due - This is kind of silly and likely the result of an unrefined billing system. After I paid everything for activation there remained a balance due of $0.84. I activated on 12/30, so I'm assuming this balance due is for the last two days of December that were not included in the quarterly billing I paid. An email has been sent to Sirius about this as the phone support was not immediately available due to high holiday call volume.
What I have
Tuner: Sirius Starmate Replay ($129.99, but $79.99 after the $50 rebate.). Pretty cool. It can be used both at home (with separate kit) and in a vehicle. It also has a DVR-type function that allows it to record up to 44 minutes of content that you can pause, rewind or fast-forward. Up to 30 presets are available, and you can have the tuner notify you when a particular sports team or song is playing. This tuner includes a car kit which I have yet to install. It also has a small full-function infra-red remote control. The remote is so small it needs a flat lithium-type battery. Battery life is unknown, but one is included in the package.

Home kit: The home kit ($39.99) is pretty self-explanatory.

Subscription: I currently pay $38.85 quarterly. Numerous choices are available. Pay-as-you-go is $12.95 per month. Prepaying larger intervals allows discounts, starting with an annual prepay giving you 12 months of service for the price of 11.

Costs:
$129.99 - tuner, $79.99 after rebate*
$39.99 - home kit
$15.00 - activation fee
$184.98 - total one-time, $134.98 after tuner rebate

$12.95 per month subscription fee

*To qualify for the rebate the tuner must be purchased and activated between 10/30/05 and 12/31/05.

Content
Still being evaluated at this point. My indoor signal is spotty, so I still have to experiment with antenna placement. Howard Stern's Howard 100 News is entertaining, but it is repeated throughout the broadcast day, so right now there's not much reason to keep it on channel 100.

The music variety is pretty awesome but I haven't had a lot of time to listen to things yet. All major genres are represented along with a lot of other more unique offerings. Also available is news (NPR, BBC, etc.), sports (ESPN, NFL Radio, etc.), weather and traffic. Traffic is only available for limited major metro areas and unfortunately Sacramento is not included.

Occasionally I'll hear words that would normally be "bleeped" on regular terrestrial radio. It's odd, but not distracting.

Conclusion
Overall things appear good, but I'm not yet overwhelmed by the awesomeness of satellite radio. Once I install the unit in my vehicle and have some time to really give it a fair listen I think that'll change. I've had XM Radio in a rental car before and it was great to have clear reception in areas where terrestrial radio broadcasts were nonexistent.

Related post: SIRIUS impressions

Update, 1/6: On my second activation issue, the $0.84 balance remaining after activation and full payment, I finally received an email response to my support request submitted online 12/29/05. Today is 1/6/06, so turnaround time is not the best over at SIRIUS support. I know it's the holidays and all, and there was a rush of new subscribers in anticipation of Howard Stern, but let's get those wheels turning, people. The meat of the reply is as follows:
Thank you for becoming a SIRIUS customer and welcome. Our records show that you activated a new SIRIUS subscription during the period of December 29-31, 2005. Since the first full billing period for your new subscription plan began on January 1, 2006, your account will be charged for the extra days of service you received in December, 2005.

As a result, on your first bank or credit card statement only, you will see two separate charges. One charge is for your regular SIRIUS Service, which began on January 1, 2006. The second charge is a one-time charge for the number of days in December your account was active.
Seems like it should be pretty easy to add on the prorated amount for the few extra days and just charge me once, but what do I know?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

one BILLION dollars...

Good lord -- advertising, instant messaging and video, oh, my. Am I the only one who did not know that AOL is not a publicly held company?

The advertising to be made available to AOL includes even Google's AdSense program! What has the Internet (with a capital "I") come to? Google is the antithesis of AOL -- minimal ads (check their respective homepages, AOL.com and google.com) -- good lord, it takes AOL at least 7 - 10 seconds to load all of that flash!

AOL will also apparently have access "that will enable AOL to directly sell search ads on AOL-owned properties," according to ZDNet (yes, I monitor via RSS).

And what about this quote:
Also under the deal, Google will "make sure AOL Webmasters architect their content" so it gets maximum exposure to Google's Web crawlers, but will not exchange any proprietary information to do that.
WTF, mate? Will AOL content have priority over real web content? Yes, I said "real web," as hopefully Internet (with a capital "I") users know that AOL is not the real Internet.

The only positive I can see coming out of this is that AOL users will have a taste of what the actual Internet, or Intertron as I've become accustomed to calling it, can provide to them as opposed to AOL's sanitized and isolated proprietary content.

god save us all. The masses are upon us.

UPDATE, 12/21: Well of course Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) is publicly traded. AOL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner, according to the company's recent press release about this new strategic alliance. So while AOL used to be traded on the NYSE under the AOL ticker symbol it has since been acquired by Time Warner, so AOL as an entity is no longer traded as a separate individual company. I just thought it was weird that one company would be able to just invest $1 billion dollars in a publicly traded company (if that's what it is) without any securities or regulatory oversight.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rumsfeld recalls ghost of McNamara's lessons of Vietnam

I've had this post idea since I saw Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld interviewed on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on December 8. It's been stewing awhile, and I rented Fog of War so I could recall an exact quote.

A disturbing parallel occurred to me after seeing Rumsfeld's NewsHour interview. Tell me if you don't see the lesson we haven't seemed to have learned from Vietnam.

Robert S. McNamara

Mr. McNamara was the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, first under Kennedy and then under Johnson after Kennedy's assassination. By most counts, the war in Vietnam was a failure for the United States as 3.5 million Vietnamese were killed, over 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed, and South Vietnam still fell to North Vietnam. At the time the U.S. administration subscribed to the "domino theory" that South Vietnam had to be propped up against the North lest the South's fall lead to the fall of a series of countries throughout Asia, spreading communism to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

McNamara has written a number of books about his time as Secretary and what he, in retrospect, has learned about the decisions made about the U.S. engagement in Vietnam. One of the major causes of the U.S.'s disastrous experience in Vietnam, according to McNamara in his book, In Retrospect, is that we [the U.S. Government] misjudged the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions. In its most basic form, we did not know our enemy. According to McNamara in Fog of War, we viewed Vietnam as an element of the Cold War and not what they saw it as, a civil war.

A quote from McNamara in an interview at Berkeley in 1996:
Now to illustrate the degree to which we didn't understand the situation in Vietnam at the time, today I believe that Ho Chi Minh was more of a nationalist, more of a Tito, than a servant or a follower of Khruschev. But at that time, we looked upon him as a vassal of the Soviets.
The beginning of the Berkeley interview is here.

[UPDATE, 2/16/2007] -- Upon revisiting this post, the quote below about history wouldn't have made sense coming from Tran Van Lam as he was Minister of Foreign Affairs for The Republic of Vietnam, which the U.S. supported during The Vietnam War. Even though I can't confirm the author of that quote definitively, it most likely was Vo Nguyen Giap, who according to his Wikipedia entry was, in addition to a General in the Vietnam People's Army, the Minister of National Defense of what we in the U.S. called North Vietnam. During discussion of the history quote, Fog of War shows a terrific photo of these two in the heat of discussion, presumably during the below-mentioned 1995 visit, that I have been unable to locate online. [/UPDATE]

The striking quote from Fog of War that I wrote down comes from McNamara's 1995 visit to Vietnam and his meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart during the war, former foreign minister (as he referred to him) of Vietnam Tran Van Lam. I have been unable to confirm this man's name as it was unclear in the film's audio and I believe McNamara's wikipedia entry identifies the wrong person, a former Vietnamese general named Vo Nguyen Giap. McNamara clearly says in Fog of War that it was the former foreign minister who told him the following after McNamara asserted that he thought we could have avoided U.S. escalation while also preventing the spread of communism:
You are totally wrong. We were fighting for our independence. You were fighting to enslave us ... Mr. McNamara, you must never have read a history book. If you'd had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. Mr. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years? We were fighting for our independence and we would fight to the last man and we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us.
Donald Rumsfeld

When I heard the following quote from Secretary Rumsfeld I had to wonder whether the U.S. is willing to face what it learned at so great a cost during the Vietnam War:
... you think about what they are losing. The terrorists, the opponents, this is an enormous thing for them. If they fail to stop a democratic government, Iraqis with their own constitution, their own election, their own officials, a sovereign nation, if they don't stop that, they've lost something enormous ... they have a lot at stake. And I expect them to be putting a lot of cards on the table.
Now admittedly, the insurgents, terrorists and other opposition forces in Iraq are not nearly as organized as the North Vietnamese were, but what strikes me is the similar "all or nothing" incentive those groups have to what the North Vietnamese had. If those forces are going to lose "something enormous," shouldn't we approach the situation differently? Shouldn't we not underestimate the level of resistance to the U.S. face of democracy in Iraq? What else do we know or not know about the motivations of the opposition forces there and in surrounding countries? What is amazing is that Rumsfeld recognizes the potential loss the opposition forces face and he doesn't seem overly concerned. We're just going to continue on with our plans no matter what.

That's quite a lot I've poured out of my brain, so if you've stuck with me I applaud you. If you're so inclined please leave me a comment and let me know if I'm out of my mind or if I've put together a coherent statement and observation.

Further reading:
McNamara's June 1996 interview with CNN.
Wikipedia's list of people related to the Vietnam War.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Coverage of Howard Stern's final terrestrial broadcast

Yahoo will be providing full coverage of Stern's final terrestrial broadcast tomorrow, December 16. Live video coverage of the entire event will be available. Stern, members of his show, and numerous fans will be outside of his building, speeches will be made and ultimately Stern will put his remaining studio and show gear on a cart which he will then pull through the streets to his new employer's building, Sirius Satellite Radio. After the march to Sirius some listeners and fans will have the opportunity to join Stern for a concert performance by Sheryl Crow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New gametype: FPCBS

That's First-Person Cardboard Box Sorter. Finally, the videogame industry has listened and responded to its critics with the introduction of Stacker, the seminal title in a groundbreaking new genre in gaming. Comparisons to Tetris are unfounded, industry monitors say, because Stacker is significantly more nonviolent, more nonimmersive and has even less of a storyline.

Says Doug Benzies, Stacker's chief developer:
"We're confident that the new 'reluctantly interactive' content engine we designed will prevent any excitement or emotional involvement, inappropriate or otherwise, on the part of the player."
Revelation of the demo at the Tokyo Game Show this year made no mention of online play, but seeing as how that may encourage interaction and possibly creativity, it seems an unlikely feature to be added before release, or really at any time.

All is not rosy, however, as some parents are already salivating at the possibility of lawsuits related to Stacker's release. From the article above:
...several parents of teenagers who work in warehouses and box factories are already threatening Take-Two with civil lawsuits, claiming that Stacker may adversely affect children of low-income workers. "My kid certainly doesn't want to stack cases of instant coffee in a hot warehouse all day, like his old man did," said Loretto, PA father Reginald Hauser. "Now they're saying there's a video game that might glamorize the activity. Those video-game honchos are up to the same old tricks."
It is unknown at this time what the ESRB content rating will be for Stacker, though many have speculated that it won't really matter. No word as of time of publication of any reaction by attorney Jack Thompson to the news of this release. Speculation is that this won't really matter either.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cable TV providers, make your choice: "a la carte" or censorship

In what is in this author's view a sensible move, today the president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association announced (also, NY Times, watch the ad first) that at least six cable companies will begin offering a "family package" of cable channels to subscribers.

With noise from lawmakers about imposing federal "decency" standards on cable television, cable providers had to do something and this is a start in the right direction. The cable providers don't want an "a la carte" system because they claim they will lose money.

Waaaaaaaah.

I can see their point only in a situation where someone wants only 2 or 3 channels at $5 per month and still wants free installation, a cable box and DVR. Other than that, cable providers must start catering to their audiences. There are enough interest groups and corresponding channels out there that even if the channels are split up and subscribed to by those who are interested, respectively, the money will still make it to the cable providers.

Plus, a pure "a la carte" system is not necessarily the only solution. One is to offer many "variety packs" like one for families, one for sports nuts, nature nuts, government nuts, news nuts, music nuts, comedy nuts, etc. And I mean "nuts" in the most positive sense, of course.

Another is to offer a tiered option where subscribers can choose up to 15 channels at the first tier, 30 at the second tier, and so on. Any channels they want up to the maximum for that tier. Or the "family pack" plus however many are left in the selected tier. Premium movie channels would still be an extra charge on top of any regular basic channels, the same as it is now.

If the choice is between changing your business model and submitting to federal government oversight, to this author the choice is clear: the old ways be damned, change the system and let come what may! At least you will have some degree of control over the form of the change.

By the way, attention all parents, you still have to pay attention and monitor what your children watch no matter what the government or your cable provider does. Not only does doing so allow you to control what your children see at home, it shows your children that you take an interest in them, that you care. Do not leave the caring of your children up to bureaucrats and corporate executives, things will turn out badly.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Howard Stern 60 Minutes outtakes

More video not shown on 60 Minutes is available on the CBS website. The outtakes are:

1. Clips from Ed Bradley's interview;
2. Clips of Howard and his girlfriend Beth Ostrosky;
3. Clips of Ed Bradley's tour of the Howard 100 newsroom.

Also on the list are the entire broadcast interview, some additional info from Ed Bradley about the interview and Howard's appearance on David Letterman.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Dave Chappelle Season 3 in 2006!

I just saw a promo on Comedy Central that made the above announcement.

Comedy Central's web site confirms this and says it will show a sneak preview of Season 3 material during this Sunday's (December 11) "COMEDY CENTRAL's Last Laugh '05" program scheduled to broadcast at 9p. As always, check your local listings.

Finally, more Chappelle!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Howard Stern on 60 Minutes tonight

Be sure to watch Ed Bradley interview Howard Stern tonight on 60 Minutes. Many non-listeners of Stern's show have an immediate bias against Stern because they read or hear about sensationalized accounts of "raunchy," "outrageous" antics and bathroom humor. Witness what Ed Bradley said in an interview on The Early Show, excerpted on CBS's 60 Minutes site:
I've never been really a Howard Stern fan and I expected the worst. I expected a guy who was just about high school era locker room humor…. And I found a guy who was very smart, who knows absolutely what he's doing, who knows how to push the envelope and get what he wants. And he's just extraordinarily good at what he does. And he has a soft side that I didn't expect.
I can't deny that some topics talked about on his show and some things that are done on the show are gross, outrageous and often in bad taste, but I can say that everything is done because Stern thinks it's funny and hopes his audience does too. Stern and his on-air crew do and say what they think is funny and don't apologize for it. You either like it or you don't.

Tune in or change frequencies accordingly.

There's also much more to his show than what is reported by the major media. Stern often has live musical performances in-studio that are unbelievably great and one-time performances: James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Willie Nelson and Alanis Morissette are just a few names of people who haven't been scared off by Stern's reputation.

He also provides another perspective to much of mainstream media's reporting of political discourse and shines a spotlight on the shallow ridiculousness of the fascination with celebrity tabloid jounalism. He's no Jim Lehrer or David Brancaccio, but he does his part.

There are only two weeks of his terrestrial radio show left, so if you haven't already, I'd recommend giving it a listen. You have until December 16 before you'll have to wait for his first show on Sirius satellite radio in January 2006.

60 Minutes is usually broadcast locally on CBS at 7p on Sundays, but check your local listings to be sure.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More online identity info

Fascinating. This is an area of study that may help truly break the web open to the masses. Just think how many more people would do things like shop, browse, update and maintain if they had complete control over how much of their identity was revealed to sites they visit.

As a starting point, here are The Laws of Identity as compiled and stated by Kim Cameron, Identity and Access Architect at Microsoft Corporation.

Identity 2.0 shown using Presentation 3.0 skillz

A link to this keynote presentation by Dick Hardt of Sxip Identity at the 2005 O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) was forwarded to me by Guy Kawasaki's mailing list. I know Guy's name from the "old Mac" days when I used a Mac SE and read his columns in MacUser magazine. Now Guy is involved in a VC company he founded called Garage Technology Ventures and he is apparently quite a champion of entrepreneurial ventures.

This keynote presentation is great for two reasons:
  1. It reveals a useful "why didn't I think of that?" epiphanic thought process for analyzing society's shift of information and resources from the "real" to the "virtual;" and
  2. If that's not enough, the revelation is done in a compelling presentation style that you can't stop watching.
The main topic is "Identity 2.0" for our interactions on the Internet, or Intertron, as some have called it. The gist is that current interactions on the web with various web sites is fairly stilted and awkward because we have to authenticate ourselves individually with each site and few sites share individual identity authentication information at all, let alone in a way that users would be comfortable with. In short, our online identities are not user-centric the way they are in the physical world. Mr. Hardt proposes a solution (not wholly original, but he is actually implementing it and moving forward) and does a terrific job of explaining it in the video, as his company very well may have invented the Identity 2.0 moniker.

The epiphanic thought process I referred to above is quite simple. One merely looks at a real-world process and maps it on top of a virtual process to see what lines up and what doesn't. This can greatly simplify the discussion of Intertron processes by removing all of the "high tech" flibberty-floo to reveal real-world analogues that we already understand. It also helps to reveal "high tech" solutions in the virtual world that would be obvious in the more familiar "real" world.

"Presentation 3.0" is my creation arrived at thus:
  • Presentation 1.0 - speaking in front of a group, as people have done throughout history;
  • Presentation 2.0 - speaking in front of a group using an overhead projector and markers;
  • Presentation 2.1 - speaking in front of a group using PowerPoint, generic clipart, bullet lists and frightening/annoying sound effects;
  • Presentation 3.0 - speaking in front of a group using presentation software to incorporate text and graphics that convey an idea intuitively in an interesting and humorous way.
Sometimes bullet lists aren't so bad.

Sometimes.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Star Wars fans, remember your sense of humor...

A friend found this never-released preview for a slightly different version of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. A bit more uptempo, this one is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Xbox 360 launches in U.S.

Cool. I don't plan on buying one until next spring when things have settled down and more games are available, but it's still exciting to read about the launch day craziness. The staff of several news sites have done reviews of the hardware, but the most detailed and interesting is from the guys at [H]ard|OCP, known mainly for their PC-oriented reviews. They have terrific pictures, taken incrementally during the unpacking process so it's almost like you're unwrapping a next-gen console of your very own. Also, great pics comparing the size of the 360 and its new controllers to the original Xbox and its controllers. Even more -- full hardware specs and a walkthru of the Microsoft Marketplace, a new feature of Microsoft's "Live" service that allows purchase of software and customized graphics, among other things. They even go through a couple of game reviews, Kameo and Project Gotham Racing 3. When I have more time I'll have to actually read the whole article in detail (it's five, count'em, five long pages with numerous external links).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Judge revokes Thompson's pro hac vice admission

Wow, what a great development. Gamepolitics is reporting that attorney Jack Thompson's pro hac vice admission in Alabama has been revoked by the judge in the Sony v. Strickland case.

Prior to Thompson withdrawing, attorneys for the defense made a pre-trial motion to have his pro hac vice admission revoked for a variety of reasons, primarily because of alleged ethical misconduct having to do with public press releases about the case and statements made about the defendants in the case. The judge did not rule on this pre-trial motion at the time it was made, but has done so now.

Apparently the judge issued an 18-page decision on the motion for revocation of Thompson's pro hac vice admission, rejecting Thompson's prior attempt to withdraw and revoking his pro hac vice admission. 18 pages is quite a lot for a pre-trial motion. Usually they are either approved or rejected with 4 or 5 pages of reasoning, if that. I await with bated breath for details of the decision and hope for a link to a .pdf.

I applaud the judge in this case for not allowing Mr. Thompson to escape the consequences of his behavior in and out of the courtroom. Revoking his pro hac vice admission means not only that Thompson is off of the Strickland case, but he can also no longer represent his clients in that Alabama court's jurisdiction in the Strickland case in any fashion whatsoever. If Thompson had been allowed to merely withdraw he could presumably inject himself back into the proceedings at a later point. Now he would have to reapply for admission to (temporarily) practice in that jurisdiction and I have a feeling the judge would be unlikely to grant such an application.

Cornstarch, water and an acceleration ramp

Wow, this is fascinating. Apparently, shaking a cornstarch and water solution at various frequencies produces some amazing results and reveals principles of a liquid that don't seem physically possible. This confirms for me the idea that we really don't know all that much about how things, in general, work. If merely applying simple forces to a liquid causes such bizarre behavior, what else in the universe may be explained by some simple principle or application that just hasn't occurred to us? And what might we be able to accomplish or reveal by just being curious and creative as opposed to only pursuing rigorous high-level scientific research?

This story courtesy of Soni Pitts and her blog. She's also a Scalzi Whatever fan and that's how I found her blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Saturday, November 12, 2005

BeOS equals obscure geek

Yes, if you hadn't already intuited from the links and stories to be found here, not to mention my profile, I am a geek. However, the addition of two new ".gif badges" at the bottom of the right margin will now reveal to you, gentle readers, that I am not just any geek. I am of that special subset known ironically yet somehow intuitively as the obscure geek.

BeOS was and is a great operating system (OS). I say "was" because the company that created it, Be, Inc., no longer exists (be.com is now a search portal). I also say "is" because I still have a BeOS bootable partition on an old computer that I occasionally use and because there is still a user base for this OS with an online presence, however small. Be, Inc. was founded by an ex-Apple executive named Jean-Louis Gassée.

I jumped on the BeOS bandwagon back in 1995-96 using R3, the latest incarnation at the time. I updated and kept using the OS for about 3 more years and now have R5 installed on a partition in an old intel box that also has Windows 98 on it. BeOS was fun and functional, but it sure helped to have a hobbyist mentality and a sense of adventure because many applications and compatibility conveniences that Windows users take for granted simply weren't available. This meant downloading user-created applications and implementing workarounds to make some things work. I'm not a programmer, so I wasn't involved in creating functionality, but I can generally figure out what needs to happen to enable that functionality and then find, download, install and configure an application someone else wrote.

Since I was not capable of making improvements to the OS myself I had to rely on the engineers at Be to keep releasing updates that would support newer hardware and software and increase functionality. Unfortunately Be was not able to survive as a company and Be's intellectual property was sold to Palm, Inc. in 2001. That was the end of official development and improvements to the OS. It was too bad because BeOS is truly elegant and efficient, but without updates its functionality stagnated and I reverted back to Windows.

I used BeOS today to retrieve something I had done years ago and decided to explore a bit with the OS, pining for the good old days when it looked as if BeOS could survive as an alternate "media OS" to Windows. Days of idealism, practicality and for me, a hint of guerrilla-computing whereby one could achieve the goals of email, web browsing and document creation without engaging the corporate powers-that-be.

I was delighted to see some of the old Be-oriented sites were still up and people continuing to work on the OS. Several groups have tried to develop an open source version or other variation, and many individuals continue to develop applications. Their spirit is inspiring.

The .gif badges I added to my site are for:

-BeOS Radio: a still active Internet radio site. It plays a truly eclectic and refreshing variety of artists and music, interspersed with a few ads and news. The site's radio feeds are hosted on a server running a version of BeOS.

-BeBits: a software portal for developers and users. It's actually quite amazing how much is available here. The last official release of BeOS is still available here, for free download.

So there's a window into my soul.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pat Robertson unwittingly undermines the ID argument

Good god -- how is it this man is still taken seriously as some sort of authority?

The citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania voted their school board out of office because the board tried to introduce the concept of "intelligent design" into the high school science curriculum. In response, Robertson criticized the citizens of Dover on his show, "The 700 Club:"

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city ... [a]nd don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there[.]"


First of all, it's difficult to believe anyone can even think like this, let alone say it out loud on a national and worldwide (sadly, this message is widespread) television broadcast. This type of statement can't pass the straight face test. Second, Pat Robertson just confirmed that the concept of intelligent design is based on religious beliefs. Not just any religious beliefs, oh no, but conservative, fundamentalist Christian religious beliefs.

Proponents of intelligent design want that concept presented as an alternative to the theory of evolution, they want children to know that evolution is not a fact and is not proven. Ironically, these same proponents will not question their own religious beliefs and assumptions which lead them to the conclusion that some aspects of nature are so complex that they never could have just evolved -- that some intelligence must have designed (created?) them.

The United States' future as a country depends on the education of its children. I'm all for questioning established thought and theories, but if children are taught that the concept of intelligent design has any basis in science they will be at a distinct disadvantage once their education progresses beyond high school. They'll be at a distinct disadvantage in life. When people, especially children, stop questioning the observations and evidence of reality around them, they stop thinking. They stop growing.

Just once I'd like to see proof that intelligent design is a valid explanation for natural complexity. Just pointing to something in nature and saying "that's impossibly complex, it must have had a designer" is not proof. The thing is, one cannot prove one way or the other whether a designer was responsible for anything in the natural world. At least not without meeting this designer or seeing this designer's blueprints. This is where what is required to believe that intelligent design is valid reveals itself: one must have faith.

There's nothing wrong with faith. It is a necessary part of life to have faith in one's own abilities and those of others. Faith is required to love, to trust, to take risks. Faith, however, cannot be used to prove anything. One cannot argue or rationally justify faith.

It just is.

So let's please stop this charade that squeezes intelligent design into the definition of "scientific theory" by redefining what science means. Call it a modern evolution of the idea of creationism and leave it at that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A beer haiku

Beer the tasty treat
Malty hops and yeast dumpage
Make us feel so nice


This was inspired by a friend of mine who sent me this one:

Beer is good for us
I love the taste and flavor
Don't stop drinking it


Please add your own in the comments if you are so inclined. Just to remind everyone who may not have written haiku since grade school, the form is 5-7-5: 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Star wars and politics collide: still funny

I found this site while looking for Emperor Palpatine's quote about a fully operational battle station to modify for my own use as comment moderator. More funny than the actual quotes is the fact that someone thought to compare Palpatine and Bush and make a web page about it. I laughed out loud when I saw the summary in google's results.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Finally some sense -- from Jack Thompson?!

Jack Thompson has reportedly confirmed to Gamepolitics.com that he has withdrawn himself as attorney in the Strickland v. Sony case in Alabama. The Strickland case was brought by Thompson's clients as a result of the murder of two police officers and a police dispatcher by an individual who is currently on death row in Alabama for the killings. This civil suit names as defendants Sony, Take2 Interactive, Rockstar Games, Wal-Mart and GameStop, alleging that the killer's obsessive playing of the Grand Theft Auto series of videogames (developed by Rockstar and published by Take2) was a direct cause of the murders.

I won't comment on the underlying crimes involved or speculate on what may happen next as I have very little information to go on. Jack Thompson's irrational and paranoid courtroom and media antics were a distraction from the plaintiffs' case and plaintiffs are better off now that he has withdrawn.

The best thing sensible people can do about Jack Thompson, and the worst thing for him, is to ignore him.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

IP protection comes close to a chilling effect

Thanks to Brandy for this story.

CafePress is an online service that allows visitors to upload their own artwork that can then be printed, for a price, on various things like t-shirts and mugs. Often, the artwork created and uploaded by visitors parodies commercial advertising, political figures, or is just plain funny.

Places like this need to be aware of any creative works uploaded to its servers that may infringe on existing copyrights or trademarks because such places may themselves be held responsible for contributory infringement or under a vicarious liability theory, separate and apart from the individual who submitted the work for reproduction, if subsequent works using the questionable IP are sold by that place. --(How's that for a sentence?)-- Owners of such works have every right to stop someone profiting from a copyrighted work without prior permission or misusing a trademark. Interestingly, CafePress was apparently zealously enforcing its "Copyright, Trademark and Intellectual Property Guidelines," specifically the provisions related to prohibited content, when it removed merchandise using the logo of an entirely fictional product and company. The fake site is well done and really quite funny, especially the "IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION." I always admire someone who really puts effort and thought into poking fun at the unquestioned norm.

After a brief email exchange later from the creators of the fake product and logo, CafePress allowed the artwork back on its site. Apparently "no harm, no foul," since the product is back up for sale, but I wonder if the creators lost any potential revenue from the products not being available. Also, would anyone who reads about this story be discouraged from doing something similar in the future for fear of being "taken down" or otherwise pursued for IP infringement?

The creators of the artwork in question apparently do a lot of parody both in actual print and online, so I doubt they'll be discouraged from doing this again in the future. Since the artwork depicts an entirely made-up product, the only copyright or trademark the creators are exploiting is their own.

-- a quick aside -- don't you hate it when you germinate an idea for a blog post, develop and nurture it, and then realize that the initial point you want to make as summarized in your always witty and descriptive post title isn't really a point at all? anyway, I'm going with it. we can't withdraw now, or the blog will collapse upon itself in the throes of civil war!

My point is that in the current litigation-happy culture in which we live, entities that sell and publish products and works must necessarily police their content, lest owners of IP come knocking with cease-and-desist orders, subpoenas or lawsuits. CafePress was certainly within its rights to question whether any IP right was being infringed by the artwork above, especially considering how well-done and professional the product and background appears to be, but how about doing just a bit of reading after a quick online search before pulling product down, eh?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sacramento will drop Howard Stern

Yesterday, October 25, Howard revealed on his show the plan that Infinity Broadcasting has for replacing Howard when he leaves terrestrial radio mid-December. There will be a regional split with David Lee Roth (yes, the former Van Halen frontman) handling most of Stern's east coast affiliates and Adam Corolla of Loveline and Man Show fame handling most of the west coast.

A couple of related links: Businessweek; NYTimes

Unfortunately for many of the music DJs on Stern's WXRK home in New York, Infinity will also be making a format change to primarily talk. To add insult to injury, those DJs only found out about this change by listening to Stern's show yesterday. Here in Sacramento the Stern affiliate 93.7 KHWD began running radio ads yesterday announcing it will be changing to the "Jack" format, which is an automated DJ-free system that apparently plays 80's and 90's music. The switch will occur after December 16, Stern's last live broadcast day. They appear to have already begun with the music because the things they've been playing are not typical of the station which is primarily alternative and rock. The Sacramento station's web site is pretty pathetic about the change: one line of text in the left margin that says "Welcome to Jack FM." I'm not sure how the change will affect our local Sacramento DJs, but it can't be good.

I'll be making the switch to Sirius satellite radio by the end of the year. Primarily it's for Stern, but also it's for the creativity, music, news and other services satellite radio provides and makes available without the limitations of the reception of local airwaves. The state of terrestrial radio and the FCC are the topic of another post, so for now, I will rest.

UPDATE, 11/6: the Sacramento station's web site, link above, has been updated but is just a splash page with an "under construction" message and suitably corporate logo. I've been trying to find an archived copy of the old pathetic Jack FM announcement on that site, but so far no luck.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Convert RSS feeds to an HTML link

Just found a cool and free web-based utility that will convert RSS feeds to a URL that you can then add to your web site without any scripting on your part. Once there, select "Option 1" and follow the instructions.

I found it as a result of wanting to display my recent Halo 2 stats like Major Nelson does in the right-hand margin of his blog near the bottom. This utility doesn't break out the stats all pretty like Nelson's, but when you click on the link it shows the same information. Also, once at the stats you can click on any individual game and you will be taken to Bungie's site for all of the info about that particular game.

The link to my stats is in the right-hand margin over there above my list of links. Maybe public accountability will drive me to play more and improve my skills.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Federal disaster response readiness?

The fallout from hurricane Katrina has made me wonder whether federal agencies of the United States have focused too tightly on a military response to a terrorist attack at the expense of preparedness for more immediate and predictable concerns like natural disasters.

It appears clear to me that "Brownie," the former head of FEMA, coordinated that agency's response to Katrina poorly, to put it mildly, but beyond that there has to be more than one man to blame for the lack of a coordinated response to that tragedy.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina quite a bit of discussion went around about the Posse Comitatus Act which, briefly, is a federal law that prohibits the US military from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States "except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress..." However, there are exceptions to this law that allow military participation in certain circumstances. According to an article written by William Banks, Director of the Institute for National Security and Counter Terrorism:

The law itself simply states a presumption against military involvement in law enforcement, not a rule. The actual rules provide sufficient authority for any catastrophic contingency, from hurricanes to terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction. That is not to say that the availability of troops will abate such a crisis. Moreover, the PCA [Posse Comitatus Act] presumption applies to enforcing the laws, not to providing relief personnel and supplies, equipment, or even medical triage.
So what was the problem? Why wasn't the authority to use military troops for just this type of situation exercised? A lot had to do with a lack of foresight and poor communication between local government and federal government, but bringing FEMA under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the resulting confusion also played a large role.

After September 11, 2001 we became so focused on being able to handle a terrorist attack that almost everything else was put on the back burner. The DHS was created to presumably help relieve the failure of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies to communicate and share information with each other regarding potential terrorist activity.

A clearer case of irony couldn't flow from the pen of Shakespeare himself.

I don't think communication and sharing, at least in a useful sense, are a result of layering bureaucracies on top of one another. The resulting red tape between FEMA and DHS must be mind-boggling.

I wonder if confusion related to military assistance was exacerbated by the Posse Comitatus Act and the fact that a civilian disaster response agency was under the control of DHS, which seemed primarily concerned with terrorist activity.

Lack of funding was a problem. With FEMA under the DHS and all focus on preventing the next terrorist attack, funding for FEMA was cut to provide more money for "homeland security," which apparently came to be defined solely as an overt attack by foreign aggressors. Not to mention funding cuts for the Army Corps of Engineers, which has a division that, along with five other districts, is responsible for water management in and around New Orleans.

A summary of these funding blunders is here.

FEMA needs more autonomy and cannot depend on funding leftovers from DHS. Lines of communication must be clearly defined so a federal response can be timely. And those with the power to make these decisions must be aware of the extent of their powers and the competency to know how to exercise them.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Food can be funny

I discovered the Gallery of Regrettable Food in my meanderings tonight and it made me laugh out loud. It reminds me of the site I saw years ago where a guy published some old Weight Watchers recipe cards that had just plain unappetizing pictures of so-called dishes that fell below predetermined caloric limits while at the same time remaining allegedly tasty.

The picture and caption that put me over the edge.

Remember, this stuff was promotional material, meant to sell a product.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Insights into Nintendo's innovative process

Lost Garden has an excellent essay on the philosophies behind Nintendo's strategy of constant innovation. The author discusses market forces in the gaming industry, how those relate to the concept of game genres, and then how Nintendo's new controller logically fits into the overall approach and strategy that it takes toward the industry.

One clarifying observation I liked was this:

People often look at Nintendo’s releases of a half dozen Mario games a year and assume that they are all clones. In fact, they are typically radically different games across a wide variety of genres. Nintendo gains their value from the Mario brand, not ownership of a specific genre.

...

Nintendo needs new genres to make money.


It seems obvious when you read it, but people often discount Nintendo, saying they only recycle the same characters and games, without realizing what the company is actually doing. They create new genres of games using familiar characters, the thinking being that gamers will be willing to go with something they're familiar with which will allow Nintendo to introduce something unfamiliar, i.e., innovative, that hopefully gamers will adopt and want more of.

Nintendo's innovation benefits the entire industry by expanding it. Don't worry, Sony and Microsoft will commoditize any innovations soon enough, but for now enjoy the freshness that is Nintendo.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Satoru Iwata's keynote address

A webcast of Mr. Iwata's keynote address at TGS is available here. It's extremely thorough and reviews a brief history of the industry including Nintendo's continuing innovation with software and hardware, including sales figures and demographics. A nice feature of the webcast is that the video and digital presentation the audience saw is presented right alongside the video. Next Generation does a nice summary.

The video lasts approximately 50 minutes, so if you want to skip to the part where Mr. Iwata introduces the new Revolution controller, skip ahead to 25:40 in the presentation. It's obvious this controller is a natural progression for Nintendo's innovation and is also part of a well thought-out plan.

Nintendo: the revolution is in the controller

Yesterday at the Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata revealed the controller for Nintendo's next-generation console, Revolution.

Nintendo certainly is not following the crowd with this one. The controller resembles, very simply, a remote control like you would have for your tv. At first I didn't quite know what to think. With all the hype around this thing I expected some wild ergonomic analog stick button-fest, but here is this simple device. It's revolutionary by being the most ordinary thing to see on your coffee table.

First watch this movie to give you an idea of how this thing can be used. It is essentially a 3D mouse, able to detect movement of the controller in six directions, up, down, left, right, forward and back.

You can imagine controlling a sword (or lightsaber!), golf club or fishing pole by actually swinging the controller around. Notice that if you rotate the controller 90 degress the D-pad is on the left and "b" and "a" buttons are on the right, just like the old Nintendo NES controller -- perfect for the back library of old games Nintendo will be making available for download to Revolution. Apparently the demos shown to some of the media gave just these types of examples. The best article I've found is on 1up. Briefly, the demos showed:

1. The controller functioning as a light gun, aiming it at the screen;
2. The controller functioning as a fishing pole;
3. The controller guiding an object through a side-scrolling maze;
4. The controller in an air hockey game;
5. A basketball variation;
6. "Where's Waldo?" variation showing the ability to zoom-in (potential: sniper rifle)
7. Flying a plane by holding the controller as a paper airplane; and
8. An adaptation for a first-person-shooter, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.

There's tons of articles out right now(developer response), including the official press release from Nintendo. It's still very early on, so it'll be interesting to see the response to this.

My opinion is that this has a lot of potential. Not only in the creative sense, but this will likely help Nintendo reach its goal to bring in non-gamers and casual gamers by having a simple, non-intimidating controller that is intuitive for just about anyone to use. It's crazy, just watching the above demo movie makes me smile. That's fun, and that's what Nintendo wants.

Hopefully Nintendo will make it easy for developers to translate traditional controller schemes to this new configuration. If that can be done easily, Nintendo has a winner. It may not rise to the level of a coup, dethroning Microsoft and Sony, but a "Revolution" has to begin somewhere, right?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tennis: on a lighter note

One of my favorite sports to watch is tennis. Right now the US Open is being played in Flushing Meadows, NY. It's a nice distraction from most of the news that's happening right now. Most televised coverage during the week is on USA Network, with some primetime and weekend coverage on CBS. Espn.com has some nice web coverage with the clearest and easiest-to-navigate brackets. The semis and finals will be this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Observations related to Katrina

I ran across this blog entry and found it piercingly insightful. It deals with the idea reported by some in the media that those who were trapped, injured or killed as a result of hurricane Katrina have no one but themselves to blame. The author highlights an interesting focal point for much of mainstream society when it thinks about the poor: children and the elderly. He suggests it's easy to focus on these age groups because it's easy to feel compassion for them. For those poor who happen to be 18 and older and are "able-bodied," however, being poor is obviously your fault and if you'd just work harder...

A quote from the post that sums up these ideas for me is:

For poor children, we have bleeding hearts; for poor adults, we have three-strikes legislation and prim, pursed lips.


The author includes a link to John Scalzi's post "Being Poor," which is superb, and provided the germ for the author's post.

Friday, September 02, 2005

PAX 2005 write-up

I have posted an article describing my PAX experience on the community gaming site (GameDays) I'm a member of. There's a few more pictures over there too.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pics from PAX 2005

I can't explain the layout of these pictures, I can only do my best to describe what is in them. The picture that appears to be of a card is indeed that -- it's my three day pass to the event.

One of the next pictures (portrait orientation) is a view down three floors with a large PAX banner at the far end of the hall.The bottom floor is where the "free play" console games were. The level the picture was taken from is where the board games, PC and console tournaments were held.

The third picture is of the registration area, taken from the top of the escalator on the first day.


Sunday, August 28, 2005

Live update - placed 3rd in the Splinter Cell tourney! We lost in the third round to the winner of the whole event.

--

Mobile Email from a Cingular Wireless Customer http://www.cingular.com

PAX 2005 -- finally!

As seems typical for many bloggers, I haven't updated as regularly as I've wanted to. Things like eating, drinking beer and hanging out with friends have taken priority.

A quick summary:

Day 1
Checked in, received swag-bag with some goodies, including a 20-sided die. Played some "free console" games of Mario Party 6 and Mario Kart: Double Dash. Gear there is top-notch: each console has a plasma flatscreen in the 40" range. Drank beer.

Day 2
Attended a seminar titled "Make Monday's strip with Gabe & Tycho." This was the coolest thing so far. In the main auditorium, everyone watched they guys onstage as they went through the inking and coloring process for the comic. Q&A was done throughout the whole process. Monday's comic is hilarious -- it involves videogames and Jesus, which is a recurring theme if you're a regular PA reader. You will laugh.

Also, the exhibitor hall was open and we saw playable versions of the new Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for GameCube as well as Mario Kart DS on the well... Nintendo DS. Also, the red vs blue guys were there and I was able to see them making an episode in real-time.

Day 3
This is still being determined. This morning I am preparing for the Splinter Cell tournament, which will be at 10:00. I've showered and just need something to eat and a Red Bull and I should be good for a few hours. More soon.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Arrival in Seattle

I'm in Seattle now, about to go to bed.

Here's a great interview with the Penny Arcade guys done by gamecloud.com that describes what PAX 2005 is all about.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

PAX 2005 trip

I'm leaving today for Seattle to attend the 2005 Penny Arcade Expo. It runs Friday, 8/26 thru Sunday, 8/28. I'm going with my buddy Shawn and meeting my friends Tom and Misha up there.

The event is similar to E3, but is oriented to actual, real game players as opposed to selling and advertising to other companies and impressing the media. Along with seminars with industry pros and exhibitor booths there will be a number of gaming tournaments, from card-based strategy games to consoles to PCs. Shawn and I will be participating in the Xbox Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory tournament on Sunday.

I will be documenting our trip right here as my first blog project, hopefully updating at the end of each of the three days. I'll also post an article documenting the trip on a great gaming community site I am a member of, GameDays.