archive for January, 2006

Coming Soon: Defcon

Introversion is working on its next game, Defcon. I tried the demo of their first game (Uplink), and really enjoyed their second (Darwinia). I’ve been looking forward to their third game for a while now.

Eurogamer recently interviewed Chris Delay, the lead designer at Introversion. Here are some of the more interesting bits (I think):

Eurogamer: … I was especially interested at the idea of a game out over an entire work-day.
Chris Delay: Yeah, we’re very excited by Office Mode. The basic idea is that a group of work-mates can start the game up in the morning in Office Mode, playing over their local area network. … Because everything is taking place in real-time you’ve got at least 30 minutes before those nukes land, so you’ve got plenty of time to respond without interfering with your real work too much.

Eurogamer: Care to give an example of the sort of Machiavellian disasters we can see?
Chris Delay: We’ve seen alliance members shooting overhead friendly planes down because they believed the planes were scouting the area for targets in preparation for a strike. This results in arguments in the chat channels, followed by skirmishes at sea, followed by retaliation, before finally the whole alliance collapses and everyone starts nuking the hell out of each other. It’s awesome.

Eurogamer: When do you expect the game to be finished?
Chris Delay: We’re currently estimating it will be finished in April.

Secret Laws?

I’ve just been reading about this case where a guy wanted to fly on an airplane without showing his ID. The idea of the government demanding to see your ID before you fly is a bit disturbing, but can probably be justified. What really freaks me out is that the law requiring the ID check is secret.

How in the world can we be expected not to break a law if we’re not allowed to know what the law is? What happened to due process? I sure hope there’s not a secret law against calling into question secret laws.

For those interested, here’s a link to the 9th US Circuit Court’s opinion. From what I can tell, they didn’t rule on the bit about secret laws (due to jurisdiction) — only on the part about having to show ID to fly.

Here’s a part of the opinion that I found funny: “the Constitution does not guarantee the right to travel by any particular form of transportation.” Does the constitution guarantee the right to travel to a particular location (assuming you’re allowed to be at that location)? If you say no, then what does it mean to have a right to travel if you can’t choose where to travel? It’s hardly a right if you’re only allowed to travel within your cell er… home.

On the other hand, if you do think you do have the right to choose where to travel, then there is another problem. What if there is only one practical form of transportation (say by air from Hawaii to Washington DC), then isn’t a law restricting a “particular form of transportation” the equivalent to a law restricting travel to that location altogether?

Here’s the problem with this case as I see it. First of all, no laws should be secret. I should be able to learn about the law before I’m affected by it. I should also be able to learn the exact text of the law, not just a summary such as “All Passengers Must Present ID Before Boarding”. Unfortunately, this case got the jurisdiction wrong, so we don’t know if secret laws are constitutional. If they are, I want to change the constitution.

Secondly, the plaintiff wasn’t able to demonstrate that commercial air travel was the only practical method of reaching his destination. Maybe someone from Alaska or Hawaii will sue next. Of course, for them to have a valid complaint, they would have to demonstrate that having to show your ID is an unreasonable search — I don’t think it is (as long as it applies to everyone).

Link Roundup: Jan. 25, 2006

It has been a while since I’ve posted some links and I’d really like to clean out the old bookmark folder, so here you go.

Cooperative Linux
This is a method for running Linux on Windows. I haven’t tried it out, but it looks really cool and useful for testing.

2006 World Question Center
Every year Edge.org asks a bunch of “big thinker” types a single question. This years question is: What is your dangerous idea? I haven’t been able to get through all of the responses yet, but most are pretty interesting.

Weblogs, Inc.
Wired had a nice little article on the founder of Weblogs, Inc. He sounds a bit like an arrogant jerk, but he does have good business ideas on how to scale up things like blogs into viable businesses.

Pandora
This site lets you put in an artist or song name and will find other similar music. It’s not perfect, but it is a cool idea. Now, if they only had a Winamp plugin.

TiddlyWiki
This is a cool little stand alone wiki application that allows you to create your own personal wiki project. You can host it on a website for others to browse if you want, but it’s really targeted at local use. I’m running one for tracking Lost. There are several projects working on making TiddlyWiki run on a server, but I haven’t found any that are really mature yet.

Google Talk Opens Up
When Google announced their own instant messaging system, I was pleased to find out that it used the same protocol as Jabber. Unfortunately, it turned out that they didn’t support server to server communications — one of the coolest things about Jabber. Server to server communications is what allows you to send email from an account on gmail.com to an account on aol.com. Well, Google finally opened up, and now I can connect between my Jabber account at work with Jesse’s account on Google. I’m looking forward to the day when AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo open up their networks and allow communications between all four of the major networks.

More than 40,000 Words in a Year

I just noticed that one year ago today, I reached forty thousand words. Well, I checked my stats and I’m over eighty thousand now. If you’re ever curious about stats like this, be sure to check out my profile. And of course for the archive, here are the current numbers (not including this post):

Word Count: 83157
Post Count: 441
Recent Posts: 1
Outgoing Links: 1320

FAA Safety Meeting

This evening, I attended my first FAA Safety meeting. The description said that it would be about reading aviation weather reports like METARS and TAFs. It did do that, but the interesting part was about all of the things going on with flight service stations, and new technologies. It was actually really informative and I’m looking forward to the next meeting. The only problem was that the meeting was (generously) hosted in a hangar and it got pretty cold in there. I’ll need to remember to bring a jacket next time.

The Very Best of the Feynman Lectures

Title: The Very Best of the Feynman Lectures
Speaker: Richard P. Feynman
ISBN: 0465099009
Format: Audio CDs
Rating: 4/5

Jesse got me these CDs for Christmas and I finished up listening to them last week. I ripped the six Audio CDs to a single MP3 CD that I could listen in my car without having to change disks. The audio quality isn’t great — it’s pretty crackly and hollow sounding — but it’s clear enough. This poor sound quality is one of the main reasons for not rating it higher.

I found the content of the lectures to be very interesting. They cover: The Theory of Gravitation, Curved Space, Electromagnetism, Probability, The relation of Wave and Particle Viewpoints, and The Schrödinger Equation in a Classical Context.

The best part of listening to these lectures is how it brought me back to the days in college when I would sit outside of classrooms with their doors open and just listen. It was a great way to pass the time waiting for a class to start, and I was able to learn a lot (even if I didn’t understand everything).

I was surprised to find that Feynman sounds a bit like Ray Romano, especially in the 1961 recordings. Like Romano, Feynman is very funny, but in a nerdy sort of way. Dr. Matthew Sands presents the section on Probability which I found quite enjoyable and educational.

The math was a bit hard for me grasp because it’s been a long time since I took calculus and I couldn’t see what was being written on the blackboard. I don’t think I would recommend these CDs for someone who hasn’t taken (and isn’t planning on taking) university level physics and math. Of course, if you want to get it for yourself, don’t let me stop you.

Predictions Checked

As promised, I’m following up on my comments on Cringely’s predictions for 2005. He’s just posted his followup, along with predictions for 2006.

From 2005:
1) He said “Microsoft’s entry into the anti-virus and anti-spyware businesses will be a disaster for users.” And “They will make a big fanfare…” I said that I agree. Cringely is giving himself credit for this, saying that “it has been a bad year for Microsoft competitors in this space”. I don’t see how that should count against MS. On the other hand, I don’t think users are noticeably more secure, which is a disaster for sure. I’d say we were right about the disaster part, and completely wrong about the fanfare (I bet most people still don’t know about this stuff).

2) Burst.com vs. Microsoft. I didn’t make a guess at this, I just said that “it wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft figured out a way to drag this out.” Microsoft ended up settling the case, and Cringely is giving himself credit even though he seemed to be only half right — expecting it to go to the appeals level first.

3) Apple to take some big risks. He was expecting Apple to sell the Mac mini at a loss in order to get some market share. They didn’t. They went on sale for $500 just as I expected. One point for me, none for him (although, I wish he was right and I wasn’t).

4) The RIAA will continue to sue customers. Both of us got this right, but it was almost too easy. I made the added guess that it “will drive file traders to use even more secure and private networks.” This is true, see Tor.

5) WiMax gets hyped. It got a little hype, but not a lot — no points. They were able to finalize the mobile WiMax standard which is cool. I don’t know what everyone is waiting for now.

6) VoIP will shatter the telephone industry. It’s a poor choice of words. VoIP has seriously disrupted the telephone industry. As Cringely points out “SBC bought AT&T”, and AT&T does offer their own VoIP service. Even with the bad wording, I think we get some credit. It’s not quite as bad as I expected, but they are hurting.

7) “Repurposing Linux-based consumer electronics devices …. I don’t think it’ll be big news.” I was right. It happened with the Linksys router, but it wasn’t big news.

8) He said that desktop Linux will finally make some serious inroads. He’s wrong here (sadly). It did continue to grow in some ways (as I said), but it really wasn’t much.

9) Innovative online video initiatives. I think the video iPod is the big news here. Studios are still ramping up for online video. Will it come in 2006 as I said? Probably a little, but who knows. I’ll take credit on my weak prediction.

10) I didn’t make a prediction on the results of the Oracle-Peoplesoft merger. I don’t even see Cringely scoring himself on it. Oh well.

11) Again, a non-prediction, this time about Cisco.

12) Sun will continue downward. Cringely was right. Sun seems to be going down. I was expecting bigger changes from Sun that we just haven’t seen. No points.

13) Intel and AMD are still fighting. Intel was able to hold it’s own (Dell is still selling Intel chips). I think we were both right.

14) UltraWide Band networking. We were right that it didn’t happen in 2005. Who knows if it’ll happen in ’06.

15) Sony’s PS3 will be delayed. Well, it didn’t come out in 2005 as some people expected. We still don’t have an official release date. I think that counts as being delayed. Microsoft was able to get the Xbox 360 out in time for Christmas. I still think we’ll see the PS3 and next Nintendo within the year.

By giving myself partial credit for things that are partially right, and extra credit for my extra predictions, I come out with 10.2 right out of 13 predictions or about 78%. Without the partial credit, it would be closer to %73. Cringely scored himself at 10/15 or 66% — his worst score ever. I think I was only able to do better by watering down some of his predictions and not even guessing on some of them. We both tended to error in favor of expecting more change than less. I’m not sure if I want to make predictions for 2006.

Lost

We’ve finally caught up on Lost. We burned through season one on DVD (from Netflix) in a couple weeks, and watched the first nine episodes from season two last weekend.

I’d watched parts of the pilot when it first aired, but it didn’t really suck me in. The hook that got me started watching the DVDs was learning about the cool, interactive, websites that go with the show. It really strikes a chord with my ARG tastes.

This is a great show with excellent writing. I’m looking forward to the new episodes starting on Wednesday.

Thank you. Namaste. Good Luck.
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Roomba's Fatal Flaw

My Roomba finally died. Like an old cell phone, the battery won’t take a charge anymore. It’s $50 to replace the battery which is pretty expensive in my book. I’m going to try to contact iRobot to confirm that that’s the problem and solution.

We went to Target last night to find a replacement vacuum. I wasn’t sure if we should get a nice, but expensive, Dyson, or if we should go for something cheap. When we walked in the door, we checked the weekly ads and noticed a Dirt Devil on sale for $45. Not bad.

The store was a mess. Most of the display vacuums weren’t in stock, some of the stocked items weren’t on display, and many of the items were missing price tags. On one of our treks to the price scanner from the vacuum section, we found a few more vacuums that were on clearance. Of course, they weren’t marked with a price so we grabbed it to get scanned to. Much to our surprise, this Dirt Devil was only $25 and had all of the features we wanted. It’s bagless, and has the little hose on the side for attachments. The deal was too good to pass up, so that’s what we got.

I’m not sure if Roomba’s fatal flaw is that in runs on batteries that will inevitably die, or that it’s cheaper to buy a whole vacuum than a replacement battery. It’s actually pretty hard to compare a Roomba with a typical upright because the Roomba is so much quieter and runs on its own. Well, I hope iRobot is able to find some new battery technology that will enable the little guys to live a lot longer.

Flying with Jesse

Today I got to take Jesse up. She’s my first official passenger. We went over to Camarillo, then to Agua Dulce, and back to Santa Monica. The entire flight was 2.2 hours.

I guess it’s because today was the first weekend day with nice weather, but there sure was a lot of other planes buzzing around. There were already four planes in the runup area at Santa Monica, so I had to wait. Normally, I’m the only one there. In Camarillo, we got stuck behind about ten planes waiting to take off with several in the pattern wanting to land. It was was actually pretty cool because six of the planes did a formation takeoff (in two sets of three).

Overall, it was a great flight. I didn’t scare my passenger, and I got some good practice in. So, who’s next?

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