archive for May, 2005

Flickr Pro

I just bought myself a Pro Flick account. I can now upload a lot more pictures without having to resize them. I’ll also be able to store as many pictures as I want. Enjoy.

Ground School: Week 14

It’s kind of late for me to make a good report of this class session. I know we watched the first half of the video from last week that we must have missed somehow. Then we went out to look at a plane and do a pre-flight inspection. Using a checklist will be important until I’ve done it several times.

When we got back to class, we talked about planning a trip from Santa Monica down to San Diego. I thought we were going to do it as a group in class (as did most of the class), but I guess we were supposed to do it ahead of time. Luckily a few people did, so we went over their plans. Before the next class, we need to plan the rest of the trip: San Diego to Palm Springs to Big Bear and back to Santa Monica. I’ve started, but I still have a long ways to go.

Tomorrow I’m going flying with Gino of the Air Spacers to check out the plane and see what I think. It should be fun, if it’s not too cloudy to fly.

Letter to Netflix

I’ve been very happy with Netflix in the past, but I’m willing to take my business elsewhere if they get stupid. Here’s what I told them:

I saw an ad for Wal-Mart on Netflix recently. Who’s your customer? Me, or Wal-Mart? Who are you trying to please? You can’t have it both ways.

I understand that you’re partnered with Wal-Mart. Fine, but don’t insult your existing customers by running ads for Wal-Mart. Help your customers. Why not offer us a chance to buy movies we like through Netflix by using Wal-Mart as a supplier instead?

Link Roundup: May 21, 2005

I’m going to break with my preferred format of writing full comments on these links so that I can get them posted sooner rather than later.

Space Shuttle’s Replacement
This looks like a great way to spur innovation and scientific development.

Paul Graham: Hiring is Obsolete
I think Paul is underestimating the full cost of getting a startup off the ground (especially the lawyer’s fees), but in general he’s right. Startups and the market are better at developing new products than big companies.

Memory Pill
Drugs like this could change society in huge ways, and this is just the start

Fuel Cell Runs on Blood
This is going to make medical implants far more viable.

Bayosphere Launches
Grass-roots journalism gets a little closer.

Robot Child-Herders
Children growing up with robots will see the world differently than we do.

New Game Consoles Need Good Games
I was interviewed for this article and actually got quoted. I’m always amused at how journalists select the quotes to make whatever point they’re trying to make. At least I understood that going into the interview. I should really post some speculation on the new consoles, but I don’t know enough about them yet.

Yahoo Music
Is subscription really the model of the future? I’m not so sure.

Ground School: Week 13

This week’s class primarily focused on aviation physiology and decision making. The book talked about blind spots in our eyes, hypoxia, and a bunch of other cool things.

The video covered decision making that pilots must be able to cope with. Like: what do you do if you encountered a head wind and don’t have enough fuel to make it to the airport that you were going to? It’s probably a good idea to try to land at a different airport, but which one? Most importantly, you need to be aware of yourself and your abilities, the surroundings, your plane, and the situation. You can’t make good decisions without the proper information. Planning also plays a huge role in ensuring that you don’t get overloaded with work mid-flight.

We’re just about done with class. Just two more meetings, and it’ll be over. We’re going to spend the time planning a flight from Santa Monica to San Diego to Palms Springs to Big Bear and back to Santa Monica.

Now Playing: Guild Wars

Last weekend I picked up a copy of Guild Wars, and I’ve put several hours into it since then. GW is a Role Playing Game (RPG) like Dungeons and Dragons, but on the computer. The character creation process is very quick and easy. To get started, you really only need to pick a profession (Warrior, Ranger, Monk, etc…), pick a look, and name your character. After playing for a while you can choose a second profession, and customize your character by learning skills, and buying armor and weapons.

Guild Wars is similar to a MMORPG (Massively Multi-player Online RPG), but really isn’t. MMORPGs have a persistent world that continues evolving and changing even when you’re not playing. You’ll typically run into other players in the same world that you’re in. Typically there is as subscription fee of $10-15 per month. Guild Wars on the other hand provides a slightly different multi-player experience. When you’re in a common area like a city, you will be able to see other players that are in that city. This is cool because it means there’s almost always someone there to ask for help or team up with. Once you step out of the common area though, you’re playing in your own copy of the world called an instance. You can team up with your friends or strangers and play is a group instance. I think they’ve struck a great balance between features and price.

The scenery itself is quite stunning. Check out a few screen shots to see for yourself. The only complaint I have about the graphics is that they didn’t create more looks for the characters themselves. It’s a little strange to see a bunch of copies of yourself running around. The sound and music does a good job of setting the mood, but staying in the background. I haven’t explored the whole map, but it seems to be a respectable size. I don’t think it’s as big as Morrowind, but it’s probably big enough.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like the creators of Guild Wars will be publishing expansion packs to give you more missions to do, and more space to explore. I haven’t really tried the Player vs. Player game mode. Some people say it’s the best part of GW, but PvP doesn’t hold much attraction for me.

JPL Open House

Today, Jesse and I went to the JPL Open House. The last time I went to an open house at JPL was when I was in high school. My uncle picked me up, and we spent the day together. I remember being in awe of the science and technology that was on display. My uncle is also really good at asking interesting questions, so I learned a lot.

Jesse and I tried to arrive early this morning, but there was already a line over a block long by the time we got there. Luckily once they opened the gates, the line flowed smoothly, even with the security checks.

We were given a map with more than twenty locations listed, and what was going on at each. Lines formed pretty quickly for some of the more popular exhibits like the Mars rovers. We watched a video on the Cassini-Huygens mission, saw some cool new technology (nothing really that new, just new to space), took a quick tour through the operations building, and the assembly building. There were also some cool FIRST robots, models and displays, and lots of very smart people talking passionately about their work.

After about four hours, the crowds were getting very thick. There was a line to see just about everything, and the weather was getting pretty hot. We decided that we’d had enough for the day, and to leave for lunch. By the time we got into the car, the thermometer was up to 97°F.

The Open House was well worth the heat and crowds. It’s going on tomorrow, and will probably be happening next year too. If you’ve never been, be sure to keep a spot open in your calendar.

Ground School: Week 12

This week’s chapter was on navigation. We covered several different navigational systems, the big ones being VOR, NDB, and GPS. Griff, our instructor, even took us on a little field trip to check out one of his club’s plane’s VOR system. We then looked at VORs on a sectional chart (map of Southern California), and briefly practiced plotting a course.

Link Roundup: May. 8, 2005

It’s been a while since I posted a Link Roundup, but now I’ve finally gathered enough links to make it worth while.

Flying Cars
CBS has a nice article with the latest news about flying cars. Most of these are really small airplanes or helicopters that would require a pilots license to use. Some would qualify as ultra-lights, so you don’t need a license to to use it, but you can’t fly as high. I don’t really see people using these as a replacement for cars, but more as a sport vehicle.

The ONE Campaign
I’ve been seeing ads for this campaign recently. It’s interesting to me because it’s trying to bring so many charities together to solve the problems of: AIDS, extreme poverty, and starvation. Depending on how you measure poverty, it’s conceivable that all three of these can be cured. We might not worry about AIDS too much here in the US because it seems easy to prevent, but should it mutate into something more spreadable we could all be in a lot of trouble. A vaccine would go a long way to save many lives. If you define extreme poverty as having a lack of enough food for proper nutrition, a lack of basic medical care, and a lack of basic education it is something that can be cured for ever by priming the pump. Starvation is really a sub-problem of poverty, so if you can cure extreme poverty, that problem will go away too. Of course, if you define extreme poverty as the poorest X percent of the population, then it’ll never be cured.

I’ve been checking out digg since I heard about it on Revenge of the Screen Savers. It’s a community run news site like slashdot, but instead of using editors, the community self moderates. It’s a great idea, but in my experience their are way too many promotional (ads) stories that make it through the moderation process. Also, theirs no good method to prevent duplicate stories.

Seeing with Sound
This is a cool story about a piece of technology that converts an image into a quick little sound. Blind people can use to with a portable camera to get a sense of what’s around them. With enough use, the human brain will actually apply the regions of the brain associated with vision to the sound, so the blind person actually experiences the sound as sight. This really demonstrates the flexibility of the brain, and its ability to work with new sensory inputs.

Food pyramid rehashed
The government really did a poor job at explaining the new guidelines with their new food pyramid. I guess they should have done what Slate did by having a bunch of designers take a crack at the problem. The guidelines aren’t worth anything to anyone if nobody can understand them, so it’s nice to see some presentations that actually work.

One idea from science
Spiked-science took a survey of many scientists and asked them what one thing they would want to teach the world. The results are interesting to say the least.

Bill Gates and Google
Microsoft has really done a bad job at innovating over the last decade. Windows 2000 is the only major improvement they’ve made to their operating system, and their “productivity” software has done more for innovation of spreading viruses than real productivity. They make some good games, but so do many other companies. All of the real innovation seems to be coming from web application companies like Google, Yahoo, Netflix, etc… Fortune takes a good look at Bill’s reaction to the mess.

Stars for Novelty

I watch a lot of movies on Netflix. Once you’ve watched a movie, Netflix asks you to rate it from 1 to 5 stars. I interpret the points as follows:
1 – I hated it
2 – Disappointing
3 – Good / Average
4 – Very good
5 – Loved it, and will watch it again and again.

I’ve noticed that I tend to give at least have a star for movies that exhibit some form of novelty. I’m so tired of seeing the same movies over and over, that I really appreciate just about any kind of newness. This probably says more about me than the current state of movie making.

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