Meme raider?

This film poster has been bothering me:

Isn't it just a direct steal from Tomb Raider?


Saturday Night Fry

Latest Fry blog posting summarized for your convenience:

"Ahhh see
Right see the thing that's got it all fucked up now is camera-phones.
How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers
When I know they've all got cameras?"

Entrance Fee

Is it me, or is this MIT entrance exam from 1869 (allegedly) rather easy by today's standards? Several of these I can do in my head (like, 1/5 + 3/4 in decimals). Although, I suppose, it depends what axioms you are allowed to start with for some of the geometry ones.

More rallying cries for the oppressed of the tech: "Breadboards YES! Waterboards NO!".

Or something like that.



Quick thoughts on Amazon's new mp3 download service:
-- Great! *Finally* I can download songs without DRM, stupid player requirements, fear of getting ripped off by dodgy russians or told that my purchase was illegal
-- User interface needs work: why can't I sort by title, artist etc?
-- Selection is disappointingly poor: struggled for half an hour to find a song that I wanted to buy to test it out. Went from my initially obscure selections (Ooberman -- Shoorly Wall; Mercury Rev -- Observatory Crest; Tunng -- Bullets; Peter, Bjorn and John -- Young Folks) to the ubiquitously annoying (Rhianna - Umberella-ella-ella) and didn't find any of them. For shame, Amazon, for shame. iTunes (which I refuse to use) had at least half of these.
-- But they do have the digital only album of David Devant and His Spirit Wife, so I can finally get this. Yay!
-- Only I'm now too tired to worry about this, so I'll do it tomorrow. Instead, you can get some free mp3s from the bands old website.
-- I want there to be somewhere where I can buy a song that I want when I feel like it, and not be encumbered with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and DRM). So please fix this Amazon. Oh, and $1 seems like a lot to pay for a song, when I usually buy second hand albums for $1 from Amazon marketplace or PREX.



Finally watched the movie Firewall this weekend thanks to Netflix, and was rather disappointed that rather than a detailed history of the firewall in networking, it was a rather lame and by-the-books thriller starring Harrison Ford. The ending, to save you the bother of watching it, is a fight scene between Ford, playing a senior computer security specialist, and Paul Bettany, playing a ruthless kidnapper. And the geek wins. That's not very realistic.

However, what was worth watching was the DVD extras, in the form of an interview between the film's director and star. Someone has kindly put this up on youtube, with japanese subtitles.

Part one
Part two

It's fascinating viewing, not least because you get the impression that Ford holds Loncraine in complete disdain, and finds the whole experience incredibly irritating. Unless that's all part of their camaraderie. What do you think?


People of Boston!

Attention, people of Boston! Apparently, you are still having difficulty with this, so let me spell it out for you.

This is a Light Emitting Diode -- an L.E.D.

This is an Improvised Explosive Device -- an I.E.D.

Remember, LED not IED! It's easy, and fun for all the family!


Like buses...

You wait for ages for a computer generated animation of a nineteenth century classic mathematical allegory for tolerance and diversity... and then two come along at once.


BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four!

I'm growing to love BBC Four, with its documentaries and analysis. Why, only last week I watched a documentary on the men who clear blocked sewers. And then I watched a three-hour long history of the English Motorway System (which, it turns out, is beautiful and strange). And this has finally prompted me to write about a documentary from some time back, called "University Challenged".

It's a piece about a British University (in this case, Bristol) in the 21st Century. Such things are fairly easy to throw together. I think there's even a standard checklist: you need one each of: (a) Senior University Administrator (preferably Vice-Chancellor) (b) youngish or middled-aged academic with a lot going on (c) one member of the student union, preferably the President, ideally engaged in some kind of argument with (a); and (d) one 'ordinary' undergraduate student. Follow all four around with cameras for a year or so, and then edit it down to an hour that illustrates "life today in one of Britain's modern Universities". University Challenged follows this formula pretty much to the letter. The most interesting part for me was seeing Dominique, the ordinary student, in her first year at Bristol.

I was not overly taken with her at first, as you see her arriving to begin her studies in Theatre Studies, and working through various tedious "getting to know you" exercises on the dusty floor of the rehearsal space. But it quickly became clear that not all would involve lazing around on her arse. In order to get through, she needed extra money, and so we have many shots of her walking the streets of Bristol, trying to get a job. She ends up working in some horrific entertainment megaplex on the outskirts of the city as a waitress at "Chiquitos", and one gets a real sense of the work needed to balance study and long hours of employment. But to her, it is worth it.

The culmination of her first year is a show put on by the whole cohort, a collection of short five minute pieces by different groups sewn together into a whole. And in the documentary, we get to see the fruits of her labours, clips from Dominique's section which she has worked so hard on, and sacrificed so much for.

And it looks like complete and utter... well, I'll drop in the YouTube embed of the section of the program that shows it, and you can judge for yourself.


More unwanted mail

Some more mysteriously personal messages which have fallen into my inbox unsolicited.

Dear Carter and Becca –

Thanks for saying that you will help this Sunday with 6th and 7th grade youth group. I am excited about it, as usual. Bobby Rhodes is going to help me plan some games and, Becca, I would like for you to teach them the Ninja tag game and maybe that game we played with Dustin that was kind of like sword fights with your finger. Also, if either or both of you can remember those mind games like my moon is made of ----------------- that would be helpful, too. I want to build up my game arsenal for this year.

Please come to St. Mary’s at 1PM on Sunday and we’ll go over a plan for how things will go. And if either or both of you are willing to bring a “guy” friend to serve as a role model for the boys, I’d appreciate that, too. It seems Andrew and Shep are too busy. I might be able to talk Rardy into it but I’m waiting until all my other options are exhausted.

Thanks again. And I look forward very much to seeing y’all!!


These are particularly odd seeming, and if you can work out the mysterious relationships hinted at between the lines, do keep them to yourself.

How goes life for you guys up there in Washington? Haven't heard from you
in a while except for Graham's life changing alert in April. Heard from
Sharon last night from Lisa and Mark that Graham is going into "the cheese

How is work for you up there? Still busy with both jobs and the business?
I have been working many 10-14 hour days here so have been pretty busy

Have been spending time with Ashton as much as possible. He is growing and
changing every week. Laura is being an amazing "mommy". She has surprised
us all at how well she has taken to the new little person in their lives.
They are a very cute and loving new little family.

Margaret had brain surgery on August 23 to relieve the pain she has had for
7 years in her face and jaw. It has been a miracle at how fast she is
recovering and that the surgery actually was able to cut off a vein that was
lying on top of the nerve and they moved and blocked the artery that was
under the nerve. Every time the artery pulsed, knife sharp pain went to her
jaw and the vein on top on the nerve was constant dull pain. Margaret feels
she has a new lease on life. She is able to eat, talk, smile and laugh
without the pain in her face. She still has some residule headaches from
the surgery but that is getting better every day.

Have been wanting to say hello for some time, excuses, excuses, but
everytime I was at Jeanette & Brent's to use their online computer I had to
just pay bills as fast as I could. No time to just send a chat notice and
personal emails at work is forbidden. Well that has changed now, so
hopefully we can stay more in touch at least with a line or two every so
often. I know have the internet again.

What all of this is leading up to is that I have moved in with Brent,
Jeanette and the boys. They bought a new home a block north of their condo
with a lot more space and of course a much bigger mortgage and asked me to
join them. It certainly is a change that is taking some getting used to,
but in the long run can be a good thing for all of us. They thought that
their home would sell for more than it did, the market dropped like the week
after their offer on the new house, so things were going to be tight but
they could do it if they were frugle. Brent is already a very finance wise
person, but when things didn't turn out as well as they hoped with the sale
of their condo and they had already signed contracts on the new home, they
found that they really could use my help for a while with the payment.

Jeanette said to think of it as moving in "sooner rather than later" since I
am getting up there in age now. I moved in on Aug 25, they had moved on Aug
11, so we are still emptying boxes and combining stuff. So here I am living
with family again and adjusting to "married life" of combining two
households into one and all that that implies. The house has two master
suite's, so mine is downstairs and theirs is upstairs.

Drop me a line and catch me up on your lives and shat's happening with
everyone. Would love to hear from you.


More dumbing down?

Apparently I'm not the only person to notice some frankly painful errors in University Challenge so far this series.

First there was some quite patronising ignorance by Paxo of basic chemistry causing him to claim that correct answers were wrong.

Then he mixed up Arundel and Warwick Castles in a picture round (well, OK, maybe someone else did, but no one seemed to spot it).

Scamming gullible viewers in rigged phone in competitions I can quite tolerate, but this is serious! Something should be done to deal with Paxy's snide put downs when someone is ignorant of some lesser known eighteenth century poet, and then can't even pronounce "germanium" correctly.


I didn't know you could do that

I do enjoy my daily WTFs, at least when I can understand them, as was the case today.

Then I came across this discussion of Rainbow Tables (which, although you wouldn't be able to tell from the write up, are just a fancy time/space tradeoff for dictionary attacks), which has possibly the most painfully clueless set of comments that I have ever read. Is password salting really that difficult to understand?

Of course, the real WTF is why MS doesn't salt its passwords properly anyway...


Pilot Lights

As is becoming a summer tradition, various pilot episodes of new shows have started showing up on tinternet, and is also becoming a tradition, I have looked over a few of them. Well, actually, I did this a few weeks ago, and was just too lazy to write up the comments until now. So I've forgotten most of the details and will leave you with only a few vague impressions. Which is probably fine. Given that last year I poo-poohed Heroes, and pinned my colours to the ill-fated mast of Studio60, I wouldn't place too much faith in my ratings.

First up, Reaper: a kid whose life is going nowhere working at a big box retail store finds out on his 21st birthday that his soul have been sold to the devil by his parents and that he has to track down evil souls who have escaped from hell and return them via a DMV office. So, another comedy/sci-fi/drama that ticks all the boxes (comedy poor-man's Jack Black sidekick; charming but unobtainable girl-next-door; etc.). It was all right, I suppose, although, I'm having a hard time in my mind distinguishing it from...

Chuck: a kid whose life is going nowhere working at a big box retail store finds out on his 21st birthday that his roommate was a spy and has downloaded all of the top sekrit information in the world into his head, and he has to use this information to track down evil spies who have escaped from Guantanamo Bay. Or something like that. It's all a little camp and arch: the electronics store he works at is called something like Better Buy and employs a team to repair computers called the "Nerd Herd" (a swipe at Best Buy and their "Geek Squad"). There are some snide little background jokes: in a Wal-Mart parody store, he walks past a giant box labeled "Astro Diapers". Because of this I predict the show will fail: Americans don't like any comedy that they think is smarter than they are, and this is destined to show on one of the major TV channels, something like ABC, so I think it'll last three episodes, then start getting postponed, have another half dozen episodes dribbled out and then be ignominiously slaughtered.

Pushing Daisies is more of the same, only different: it's the story of a young man who discovers that if he touches dead things he can bring them back to life, but if he touches them again, who makes a living solving crimes by bringing victims of Murder back to life, asking them who did it, and then sending them to their eternal sleep. It gets weirder than this, involving the character of an undead Anna Friel, a rather intrusive narrative voice over, and a very stylised look. From this, it's impossible to see how things will develop into a series, which rather reminds of the show "Dead Like Me". In the case of "Dead Like Me", it really didn't develop into a series, but sort of meandered around the place for a while without ever troubling too much with plot or meaning. So expect the same here. Expect it to draw critical raves, a healthy audience for the first episode or two, but then a gradual trailing off up until Christmas, and no second season.

Similarly, I saw Californication, a "premium cable" show which features David Duchovny, for the ladies, and Ladies' Top Parts, for the gents. The first episode played out like a latter day Woody Allen movie, i.e. one of the movies that's ostensibly a comedy, but doesn't really have any jokes, just some slightly unexpected situations and the protagonist desperately trying not to break the forth wall and gurn at the audience. The show will continue, and will probably be more of the same, but I rather quite like just taking the single first episode as if it were a short film in its entirety. On those terms, I think it's moderately successful, but to watch any further episodes would only spoil it.

"Reimagining" is a fancy way of describing the practice of remaking cheesy sci-fi shows from the seventies and making them less camp. Adding to the trend of Battlestar Galactica, and Dr Who is The Bionic Woman, which stars a woman who I am reliably told is off of EastEnders who hangs out with a pressured academic who seems to be getting some extra funding from a rather dubious DARPA-style agency just long enough for their unlikely romance to seem almost plausible, when a nasty car accident turns her into -- the Bionic Woman (the clue is in the title), she has a fight with Starbuck off of BG in the rain for a bit, and she decides to help the sekrit government project by solving mysteries, tracking down evil spies and souls that have escape from Hell etc, etc. Thankfully, the show is entirely forgettable, and for all its expensive production values and top talent imported from EastEnders, well, Bionic Woman is no Kyle XY.

Scraping the bottom of the barrel is Slacker Cats, which I only watched because it was created by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, who also made some great little UK comedies like Hyperdrive, as well as the less laudable "Bunny Suicides". Regrettably, Slacker Cats is very much in the latter category: a 'modern' cartoon based around the lives of a pair of cats who get into all kinds of unamusing scrapes. It tries to veer into Family Guy/South Park territory by including a variety of weakly outrageous scenarios which are both crude and pathetically unshocking -- look! A cat has bitten off another cat's ear! A cat has urinated on a table! Oh noes! -- but entirely lacking in any sympathetic characters that would make such activities remotely meaningful. It also suffers from a casual lack of any attempt at internal logic, and Emo Philips playing, um, a cat who is Emo Philips. No paws out of ten.

So, none of these new shows have really stood out so far. Which ones will I try to watch? I'll probably catch Chuck and maybe also Reaper if I've got nothing better to do (clue: usually I don't), but only on the understanding I fully expect these shows to be cancelled before they hit their stride, and leaving their plots in the middle of the explanation of some irritating cliff-hanger.

What should you be watching: this summer has actually seen a lot of good shows that it would otherwise be easy to miss. Psych has returned to the USA network, and has replaced Monk as my favorite USA detective show (Monk is getting too old and tedious; I can still usually solve the impossible mystery in the first five minutes most of the time). Kyle XY is managing to do the impossible, and sustain a second series even after a first series which seemed to wrap things up sufficiently. It's silly sci-fi nonsense, but as usual in such things, the accidental inclusion of teen drama storylines keep it alive. And Burn Notice is another cable-only show which I almost missed; however, since it starred Gabrielle Anwar, and I have a rule to try watching any show that features a Press Gang alumnus or alumna, I gave it a try. It's a load of fun: an ex-spy is confined to Miami, and has to scrape together a living solving mysteries, capturing evil spies etc. But this show does it in a highly entertaining way, as each week he overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds aided only by Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead fame) and Anwar as his ex-IRA girlfriend. Yes, only in America could the IRA represent the "good" terrorists, but maybe thanks to President Blair we can just all forgive and forget. Anyway, forget that, and Anwar's rather spurious Oirish accent, and just enjoy this silly little action packed show.


I thought about it...

I first complained about my doorbell about two years ago, so I feel that it's about typical for me that it's only now that I have got around to fixing it. Admittedly, it took a couple of attempts, since first I replaced the switch, which had rotted away, but this did not fix it. After a lot of rooting around with a voltmeter (quite a handy thing to have around), I managed to figure out that the bell was also malfunctioning, and so I found a replacement bell for $8 in my local Home Despot, and switched it in. Now it does seem to ring OK, although it you hold the button it doesn't keep ringing, so you have to listen out for it. Could be the transformer is faulty, since it only seems to be producing about 10V when I think the standard is 16V. But I can worry about that another day. Now my bathroom fluroescent light has gone on the fritz, so I need to work out what needs to be replaced there.