Monday, March 28, 2005

Movie Review: Steamboy

Steamboy is a Japanese Anime film directed by Katsuhiro Ôtomo of Akira fame. I know I saw a version which was edited down from the Japanese original, but I've read it didn't affect the plot much. This is a shame because it would have been an excuse.

The premise is fine, set in Victorian England and focused on the Steam family of inventors (get it?), the young Ray finds himself protecting the amazing "steamball" from "bad men". Who the bad men are and how various people shift from good to bad is apparently immaterial. We are shown gorgeous animation and chase scenes, so there. We then find that the technology fair in London is apparently a weapons fair the battles that break out are actually demos for prospective buyers from other nations. Of course one group is using the steamball to power their weapons, but are we really supposed to be rooting for the group fighting them to win? Whether for defensive purposes or not, it's apparently better to use such things to build menacingly large ferris wheels.

The plot transitions between various scenes are either nonexistent or nonsensical. And one faction has a young girl named Scarlett O'Hara running around their weapons facility acting like a spoiled brat. and giving orders that people actually listen too. All I can say is the English dubbing seemed to be ok, but otherwise this sucked.

I've lost 7 lbs not eating this crap

Burger King has introduced the Enormous Omelet Sandwich for breakfast. Two slices of cheese, two eggs, three strips of bacon, and a sausage patty on a toasted bun. Or if your gut is set on having 730 calories for breakfast you could instead have 3 pieces of cheesecake, 4 slides of pepperoni pizza, 7 glazed donuts or 15 pieces of fried chicken. I never knew fried chicken was so good for you. If you haven't seen it, go see Super Size Me. If you're curious here are some comparisons:
FoodCaloriesFat g
Big Mac56030
Venti Java Chip Frappuccino65025
Enormous Omelet Sandwich73047
Whopper w/ Cheese78049
Hardee's Monster Thickburger1420107

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Out of the Ordinary

Saw a rave review of a modern dance show in the Globe on Saturday called BattleWorks. It was playing at the new Zero Arrow Theatre in Harvard Square and the last show was Sunday at 3pm. On a whim I decided to go. About 10 years ago I saw Still/Here by Bill T. Jones, it was one of the most intense shows I've ever seen. This wasn't that, in fact parts of it were funny. I don't feel qualified to review the show, but it was fun to watch.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Ineffective Security

I saw this article in the Boston Globe on Saturday: / News / Nation / Identity theft in Las Vegas raises terror concerns. "Burglars rammed a vehicle through a back wall at the DMV early on March 7 and drove off with 1,700 blank Nevada licenses, the equipment needed to make licenses, and a computer hard drive that contained the Social Security numbers and other personal information of more than 8,000 people who had obtained licenses there since November."

It goes on to quote some idiot: "Say it's a terrorist cell that ends up with this information. They can use it to rent cars or trucks". The problem with such a statement is it can be used for anything. Should we start presenting IDs at restaurants because terrorists might eat there?

There were other things in the article to make anyone knowledgable of computer security cringe. "they did not believe the hard drive contained any personal data. But [they] did not delete the data each night, as officials had thought." Nothing like not following procedures to create a good risk. ''But who would've thought someone would take a truck and drive it in the back of an alarmed building? It's a hard lesson to learn." Yes but encrypting your data would have been an obvious way to lessen the impact, unless you left a password on PostIt next to the computer.

At least there was something not alarmist in the article: "When I consider some of the issues I worry about, some driver's licenses aren't high on the list," [a homeland security specialist] said. ''It's so easy to forge driver's licenses these days. If you want to know how to get a phony driver's license, all you have to do is ask a teenager."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Cirque Dreams

Last night I saw Cirque Dreams at the Shubert Theatre. It's similar to Cirque Du Soleil but a different group. It had various acts of acrobats, contortionists and aerialists and a dreamy Cat-in-the-Hat-like set. By far the best part of the show was Victor Dodonov balancing on a combination of rolling cylinders. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I would not have thought it possible. It's the only time in such a show I wanted the performance to finish quickly so he would get down and not kill himself. Well worth the price of admission.

How to Start a Startup

On March 7th, I went to a lecture by Paul Graham at Harvard. He basically read the whole essay but he writes well and you can read what I heard here. It was about starting a company and he drew mostly from his (quite fortunate) experience starting Viaweb (and selling it to Yahoo). Some points I liked:

  • are you the kind of person who "wants to solve the money problem in one shot instead of getting paid gradually over a conventional working life."
  • he worked 7 days a week till 3am with only a couple of exceptions
  • business is not mysterious
  • "In a startup, your initial plans are almost certain to be wrong in some way, and your first priority should be to figure out where."
  • "Start by writing software for smaller companies, because it's easier to sell to them" because "while you can outhack Oracle with one frontal lobe tied behind your back, you can't outsell an Oracle salesman"
  • "Aim for cool and cheap, not expensive and impressive. For us the test of whether a startup understood this was whether they had Aeron chairs"

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tivo and Comcast Partnership

Comcast to Offer TiVo Service. Tivo shares are up 50% on early trading. This is great news and should provide Tivo subscriber growth when their DirectTV deal ends. And I might finally get an HDTV capable Tivo. :)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Wireless Printing at Home

Now that I don't have access to an office printer. I needed to buy one for home to print those airplane reservations and online receipts among other things. I didn't know anything about buying a printer and found it pretty intimidating. A bit of googling and I found some good articles at I might have been influcenced by what I first saw but the Canon PIXMA IP4000 seemed like a good choice for light home printing, some photo printing and even doing 2-side printing. I found this excellent Color Inkjet Printers article that seemed to confirm my choice. I also found Steve's DigiCams had good reviews and active forums.

I wanted to keep my printer in an out of the way room, so I wanted to connect it to my wireless network. I found this is harder than I thought. Ultimately printers need to be connected to a computer (e.g., via a USB cable), if the computer is on a network it can make the printer available to other computers on the network. You can also buy a dedicated print server which is a small box with a mini-computer in it that can do what's needed (and not much else). Connect your printer to one of these and all computers on the network can use it. There are several print servers from venders such as D-Link, Linksys, and Netgear but in forums I found people had lots of problems such has using them with macs or on secured wireless networks (gotta do that). Some printers have networking built in, but they are more expensive and had similar problems, and if my home network upgrades, I don't want to have to buy a new printer too. It turns out Apple's AirPort Express can do the job...mostly. I found several complaints on forums that not everything worked right with the IP4000 and AirPort, but it appears on the unofficial AirPort Printer Compatibility List and found some people that got it working. Turns out it can do most things but for some configuration tasks you need to connect it via USB not wireless.

CompUSA had the IP4000 on sale for $30 off and Canon had a $20 rebate, so total cost was just $99! It turns out a printer cable isn't included, so I went to the Apple Store and got a USB printer cable and an AirPort Express. I got home and setup the printer (not as hard as the large setup poster made it seem) via USB cable to the PowerBook. All good, printed out Google News from Firefox in duplex mode, very nice. I checked online and found the latest drivers came on the CD, so there was no need to download any. Setting up the AirPort Express, didn't seem too hard. Since it can also send iTunes to my stereo I for now have the printer near the stereo and the AirPort Express configured for both. I connected the printer and stereo to the AirPort and plugged it in, all seemed good running through the wizard on my PowerBook, it found the AirPort and let me configure it, even using a WPA encryption password. I finished the wizard thinking things were fine but then noticed a flashing yellow light on the AirPort which means something is wrong. After a bit I realized I had MAC address filtering on my wireless network enabled so that others can't randomly connect to it, that of course would keep out the AirPort too. I turned off the filting and tried again but that didn't work. I tried to reconnect the configuration wizard to the AirPort but couldn't see the AirPort at all. I tried resetting it several times but couldn't still couldn't see it. I tried yet again and it worked! It was still configured as a client to my network (with the WPA encryption password working fine). So reset didn't seem to work, but I can print wireless from iPhoto on my PowerBook and hear iTunes on my stero while the wireless network is encrypted and filtered by MAC address. I briefly tried to configure my windows machine to print wirelessly but that wizard only saw the printer via the PowerBook and I don't think I want that. I'll play with that later.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Chernobyl Tours

Elena takes some fascinating trips and writes about them on the web, with photos. I would never do this but due to the web, you can follow along on Elena's Motorcyle Ride through Chernobyl in 2004. In the summer of 2004 she travelled through Kiev looking particularly at WWII battle sites. Really interesting reads, you find sentences like "this days people forget their history, ask anyone in downtown where is bunkers, they don't have no idea what is bunkers. They can only show pubs and I can show both bunkers and pubs."

Movie Review: Nausicaa

Nausicaa is one of the first feature length films by legendary anime film director Hayao Miyazaki. It was originally released in 1984, but only now available in a US version due to the success of his later films 1997’s Princess Mononoke and 2001’s Spirited Away, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. While watching I was trying to set the context of what animated films were like in 1984. In the US, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was still 5 years away and in Japan, the film Akira was still 4 years away. Miyazaki films are known for having a child protagonist, ecological themes, a fascination with aircraft and a lack of traditional villains and all are evident here.

The story centers on Nausicaa, a Princess from the Valley of the Winds in a post-apocalyptic Earth. A thousand years before, the world suffered the Seven Days of Fire and a Toxic Jungle formed protected by large deadly insects (called Ohmu, think of the worms from Dune). Mankind was segregated into separate kingdoms which now are mostly warring. The Valley of the Winds (odd that it has no other name) seems to be the only peaceful land. The winds keep out the jungle’s toxic spores. Princess Nausicaa has remarkable empathy for other people, nature and even the Ohmu. She performs aerobatics on her powered glider, and calms enraged Ohmu (their eyes change from red to blue) in a way no other person can. We meet two other kingdoms, the Tolmekian and the Sujite, who each want to destroy the toxic jungle, each other, and the Valley of the Wind. Each of the three kingdoms have their own plans, characters, airships and weapons to keep track of, and the jungle and insects act as a fourth kingdom with its own characteristics. As with any good epic fantasy, Nausicaa finds herself at the center of all this as the kingdoms collide.

The story is engaging and the animation wonderfully organic. This is before the time of computer animation and while it’s clearly anime, there are no huge round eyes nor excessive panning over still images. The overall theme seemed quite obvious, we should embrace nature not try to destroy it. Nausicaa seems remarkably gifted but we’re given no background as to why or how. This is sometimes jarring, as when we learn amongst her other pursuits she’s been secretly studying deadly plants and finding them non-toxic; if she’s discovered this why not tell anyone? Nevertheless, it’s easy to recommend this film to anyone with an interest in animation, fantasy, epics, or even girl-power.

This DVD, released in Feb 2005, contains the original Japanese with English subtitles and a new English dubbed soundtrack with the voices of Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman and Edward James Olmos. Unfortunately Alison Lohman does a mediocre at best job as the voice of Nausicaa, so I recommend the Japanese version with subtitles.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Some Reasons Why Mac OS X is Better

If you didn't real all of the previous post, here's the point. Keeping a well formed directory structure with all a user's data under one root, in simple file format without unnecessary per machine specifics is really superior to Windows. And the install process for applications on a Mac is a dream, I don't know why I don't see more about it. For most applications, you download (or get on a CD) a disc image file which you open and then see a volume (a special kind of folder) mounted. Inside a directory with your applications icon and maybe a README. Just drag the icon to your system's Application folder (or any folder) and it's installed. Trash the disc image and volume and you're done. The apps all store their data and config in your home folder (in "~/Library/Application Support/"). There's (typically) no installer which questions to answer that moves all these files and writes to the registry and requires a reboot. And the uninstall is easy, just drag that icon to the trash, or double click it to start the app, or drag it to the dock to make it easily accessible. I think this all possible because of the Mac's "folder options" but I have to look into it more. Regardless of how it works, it does work wonderfully, and it's a great advantage over Windows.

PowerBook Troubles (Resolved)

My trip wasn't the only reason for my silence. It turns out, that on my PowerBook's 15th day, I found it only had half the memory it should. I'm fairly certain it happened while I was installing Microsoft Office, as it was the only time the machine froze and I had to find how to force it to reboot. It was easy to take it to the local Apple Store's Genius Bar; I could sign up online at home and when I got there 20 minutes later, my name was about to be called. He swapped the two mem cards and quickly determined that it wasn't the cards that were bad but one of the slots. This was annoying because the computer needed to be fixed, I couldn't just swap a memory card. Now if it were a stock PowerBook they might have switched it for me right there, but I had ordered it online and got a larger hard drive and a more powerful graphics card. So I had to deal with the online store. The Genius Bar guy opened a support incident for me and said I'd hear more.

Unfortunately I didn't. I checked the incident status online and it was closed the next day. So I called and got a very nice person who tracked it down, reopened it, and connected me with someone who could help me. I then found out the procedure was, they would send me some return slip to print out and put on the outside of the box for me to ship the machine back to them, as soon as my return was registered in the shipping system (ie as soon as I sent it) they would overnight a replacement. This bothered me for a few reasons. One I didn't have a printer. Two I was going away soon and wanted the machine for the trip. Three how would I get all my data (2 weeks of setup and conversion from windows) to the new machine. It was particularly annoying that I had read about how wonderfully you could clone one mac from another, but I wouldn't have the two machines together to do so. Nor could I just keep my hard drive. I also couldn't drop it off at the Apple Store and have the new machine shipped there so I could clone in the store. One good thing, I could wait up to 14 days to use the shipping form, so I could take the old machine (with 512MB) with me. I'd deal with this after my trip.

I copied everything in my home directory on the mac, this includes all the stuff would be in the window's registry (as well as almost 30GB of iTunes files). I went to the apple store and printed the return slip. I then when to FedEx Kinko's (did I know FedEx bought Kinko's?) to ship it. The woman there wasn't particularly clueful, though she was friendly. After about an hour they figured out how to enter the printed out slip in their system (I printed it using FedEx's website!). She also didn't charge me for packing it so I guess it was ok. The machine was off, my new one should be shipped overnight tomorrow.

Well that's what apple's site said the first day. The second day it said it would arrive in over a week. I called and got through quickly but they were unhelpful with my frustration. They said it might arrive sooner, it was only an estimate, as if that helped. Well the next day the apple site said it shipped, and when I checked the tracking status it left Shanghi China on Tue and was due to arrive Monday. Amazingly it arrived Fri morning, so it really wasn't bad.

Now for one of the reasons I'm liking Mac OS X much more than windows. I got the machine and started it up, after going through some registration screens I had it up and running. I had the network up and running but had some problems connecting to my windows machine (the format wasn't "\\machine\share" like on Windows but more URL-like: "smb://machine/share" and I had forgotten this incantation. I copied over directory by directory and installed iWork, MS Office, Emacs and Firefox. All my preferences and data made it over fine. It all took about three hours, one of which was purely to move 30GB if iTunes files. My previous experience setting up new windows machines, even with detailed notes from the last time I had done it, was that this same amount of work took 2-3 days.

Fun in Pittsburgh

Sorry for the pause in posts. I was in Pittsburgh, PA visiting some friends. We saw a standup show by Lewis Black which was hysterical. If you'd like to hear it, it's basically his newest album Luther Burbank Performing Arts Center Blues. Though the show I saw had its unique points. He's coming to Boston's Orpheum Theatre on April 9th.

The next night I and some friends had a wonderful dinner at Sonoma Grille. We basically had what's in the picture in the article, a tapas platter of five appetizers served on a barrel round and a Mixed Grille platter where you get to pick two or three things (I had Shrimp Tempora, Crab Cakes, and Veal wrapped in bacon). Lot's of food, lots of wine, lots of friends, lots of fun. If you're in town I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Up to G

I bought a D-Link DI-524 802.11g wireless router at Best Buy yesterday. It seems much faster than the 802.11b SMC router I had. After rebates it will cost only $20 which is 1/10 the cost of Apple's AiprPort Extreme. There's something wrong with that.