Wed - January 25, 2006

Deep Squirrel Mysteries

Some of the classic Foamy episodes have suddenly gone missing over at Ill Will. In something that is probably not a coincidence, the cuts that have given up the ghost are ones from before the sudden appearance of the "suitable content" disclaimer. Recent episodes that appeared with the disclaimer already in place ("Exotic Chocolates", "Hatta's Rant") run just fine, but classic episodes ("Small, Medium, Large", "Foamy's Rant IV") all suddenly crap out after the first half-second or so. No explanations have been forthcoming from the Foamy camp at this time.

Posted at 01:52 PM     Read More  

Let 'Er Rip

There is a tasty new build of Handbrake available, which now allows you to rip and convert any DVD to MP4, even if said DVD was encrypted. Better, you can still mix and match video and audio codecs, so you can make the most of the storage space on portable platforms like iPods and the PSP. Or you can just make you porn fit better on your hard drive. Whatever.

Posted at 01:44 PM     Read More  

Portable Profs

Out of the blue, Stanford University has made over 500 lectures, speeches, and other bits of university content available via iTunes. For free. This is extremely cool, and one would hope that it is the start of a general trend in these sorts of things. Kudos all around.

Posted at 01:36 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Breaking Blackberry News II

People are now firmly divided into two camps on the RIM/NTP patent thing: Those with strong and often wildly-divergent opinions as to what it all means, and those who are completely confused. It should be pointed out, of course, that these two groups have pretty much the exact same amount of concrete information - it's only how they choose to deal with it that is different.

And - speaking of choosing and dealing ... the way that RIM chose to deal with this is the root cause of a huge chunk of their current problems. For reasons that probably make sense to them - and only them - they have elected to lower the Cone Of Silence in an attempt to turn Waterloo into some sort of latter-day Fortress Of Solitude. Instead of being forthright and open about all of this from the word go, they have positioned themselves as a wanna-be Microsoft with Jim Balsillie playing the role of a ghetto Bill Gates. The upshot? As you pick through the flood of speculation-charged "news" today, you can't help but notice that RIM comes off as the bad guys, a shadowy-yet-evil empire trying to crush the plucky little inventor who is gallantly defending his patents ... not particularly the image you want to project in a war that will be fought on the treacherous battleground of public opinion.

Is that really the case? No, of course not - both sides have some valid points, both sides have some dodgy stances. RIM, however, needed to take the high road early. Any sort of cursory examination of the patents in question or the history of NTP leads to the fairly obvious realization that Thomas Campana's patents are valid, they were filed long before RIM came onto the scene, and that NTP has every right to them - this is not a case of patenting a widespread technology after the fact. RIM's position was tenuous from the word go, and they needed to be the white knights in this endeavour, transparent to the media and making a big fucking noise about gallantly fighting for their beloved user base. Sadly, this is not the course that RIM has elected to follow, and the public and media perception that they have created by this tactic is definitely not working in their favour.

Now - nobody wants the Blackberry service gone or halted. The potential injunction that NTP keeps waving around is their "nuclear bomb" ... a threat, but one that they hope they never have to use. NTP wants to get their share of the sweet Blackberry pie, not to toss the whole damn thing out the window. The latest development here is the offer of a 30-day "grace period" ... something that makes NTP seem (once again) like the good guys, with user needs in mind, but is really an extra-heavy tactic ... it lets them pull the trigger and prove that they are not bluffing, but puts the onus back on RIM to find a way to dodge the bullet. Very clever, and very manipulative.

RIM, of course, is still championing the "software workaround" that they claim will save the day. However, their above-discussed refusal to actually talk about any of this - including the details of the workaround - gives everyone the idea that whatever it is, it will suck large. Rumours are rampant (mostly due to people who participated in focus groups stateside) that it will involve manually having to "check" your mail the way you do on any other handheld or desktop device. Is this true? Maybe, maybe not, but who the hell knows? If it is true, though, it is a nine-inch nail in the RIM coffin, since the only reason to carry a Blackberry is the instant mail synchronization. As a PIM, the Blackberry sucks ninety-seven kinds of wang (and still has wang lined up around the corner waiting for a turn) and for those functions you would be further ahead to carry a Treo or PocketPC or (when you get right down to it) a pad of fucking paper. Not coincidentally, some of the news feeds today are starting to mention the alternatives - something that they did not do in the early going here - and supposedly factual reporting of the goings-on is starting to be tainted by outright recommendations to get a Treo.

Is this the start of the avalanche? Maybe. Is it too late? No, of course not - RIM could stem the sudden surge of user and public resentment simply but opening up and honestly talking about what is going on. Will they? Don't hold your breath ... there seem to be some delusions of tech royalty up Waterloo way, and lowering themselves to chat with the peasants doesn't appear to be anywhere on the agenda.

Posted at 09:31 AM     Read More  

Smartie 0176

12: The age of the youngest soldier to be killed in the U.S. civil war.

Posted at 06:33 AM     Read More  

Tue - January 24, 2006

The Morning After

A few final thoughts on the election before returning to the usual rants:

- for the cadre of correspondents from south of the 49th who spent yesterday asking me various questions about how Canadian elections work: We now have a "Conservative Minority". Fell free to pester me for details.

- for a lot of people who live in Canada, regular correspondent Mean Gene had the best take on things: "It could be worse." Just keep repeating that ... "it could be worse." You might even eventually believe it.

- for anyone who works in the beef or lumber industry, well, you should probably start buying lottery tickets. Stephen Harper's vision of Canada as a lapdog of the United States means that your livelihood is probably toast.

- for anyone who lives in B.C., well, sorry about the impending rape of your environment by Alaska-based U.S. interests. You might want to move ... I hear that Labrador is still kind of nice.

- you would think that the Tories would have enough money to buy Harper a proper hairpiece. That thing is atrocious.

- it took less than 2 hours for the Bloc to start to try and extort the Tories for some in-house support. I thought we would have been able to measure that particular interval in seconds, not hours. They're slipping.

- Svend Robinson should probably just go away now.

- It could be worse. It could be worse. Keep repeating it. It could be worse.

- Paul Martin's instant resignation makes it rather obvious that the Chretien brigade still controls the Liberal party, and that Uncle Paul had no say whatsoever in how this campaign was run. Connect the dots yourself. One: Under the Martin government, the Canadian economy was booming, the employment rate was at an all-time high, the dollar was strong, and the budget had a nice little surplus. Two: Only a complete moron (or group thereof) would run a campaign that didn't use fact one as the main platform. Three: The Grits did just that. Four: Paul Martin might be a lot of things, but he is certainly not a moron. Five: This was not his campaign. We'll miss ya, Paul ... life was pretty good under your watch. But more power to you for washing your hands and stepping away with some of your dignity intact.

- Harper's eyes. They aren't just cold. They are cold and, well, dead.

- My much-worried-over-vote ended up not mattering at all. We elected the commie candidate in my riding, so our representation will be somewhere between "non-existent" and "laughable".

- Paul Martin was a lot more fun on Rick Mercer than was Stephen Harper.

- It could be worse. It could be worse. It could be worse.

Posted at 10:34 AM     Read More  

Mon - January 23, 2006

Ballot Box

So, yeah, I voted.

Question: Why are we voting with fucking PAPER?

Statement: I feel really unclean ...

Posted at 06:58 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Disenfranchised

The question that readers have been pestering me with today is, of course, "who ya gonna vote for?" Can't blame them for asking, I made a public issue of my attempt to email my candidates, so anyone following along now has a vested (or at least passing) interest in what happens. Since I don't particularly mind standing publicly behind my choice, I will humour everyone and spill the beans. But first, the inevitable recap:

I emailed each of the four main candidates in my riding (sorry, but I wasn't going to waste bandwidth on the Christian Heritage Party or any of the other nutjob organizations) with a couple of questions. I let them know in no uncertain terms that their answers would be the deciding factor for my vote, as I had no party allegiance and found all of the party leaders to be generally horrid. The results where as follows:

Don Graves, Conservative Party of Canada: The candidate personally emailed me back in about 2 days. His answers to the four questions I posed to him ranged from trite (for "Why is your party offering tax cuts instead of being fiscally responsible and paying down the debt?") to downright dangerous (for "What is your stance on the nonwithstanding clause?") but at least he answered.

Bill Kelly, Liberal Party of Canada: Never heard a word. One lousy question, and no one bothered to write back. Not Bill (who is actually a friend, which cheeses me off even more), not a campaign flack, no one. Nada. I can only assume that he was too busy taking kickbacks and stuff (being Liberal and all) to sit down and type. Worse, the email address wasn't actually on his campaign web page and I had to waste 10 minutes hunting for it.

Susan Wadsworth, Green Party: I got a reply to my single question for her almost immediately ... because the email address on her campaign web page was invalid and the damn thing bounced back. Against my better judgement (mostly because I wanted to vote for her) I emailed the webmaster listed at the party's national page and asked what was going on. The reply? "Sorry we're so incompetent!" What? What the fuck is that? Why not just stamp "Loser" on the forehead of each candidate? Jeezus.

Chris Charlton, New Democratic Party of Canada: It took a while, but I got a reply ... one that started with the words "Dear Fellow Working Canadian". That's right ... a fucking form letter. And not even an auto-reply - apparently technical ineptitude is as important as stomping on worker rights in the NDP camp, and the canned response was obviously copied and pasted into the reply by some hapless drone. I never got to the second line of the reply ... I'm not wasting time reading pre-fab drivel from someone who obviously doesn't care for my vote.

The conundrum, of course, is that the one person who bothered to reply is a member of a party that is headed up by a truly terrible person - a slimy little bastard who worships at the foot of G.W. Bush, has demonstrated himself time and time again to be one of the stupidest people in the history of Canadian politics, and who would probably sell his own children into slavery if it weren't so annoyingly illegal. I mulled this all weekend, and eventually had to turn to the last refuge of the desperate voter in Canada: Parliamentary Tradition. By definition, we do not vote for the party or the leader, we vote for the local candidate. So that is what I will do. Despite the fact that his answers kind of sucked, I will vote for the Tory because no one else gave a rat's ass about my ballot. My only comfort here is that never in the history of Canadian politics has a riding been decided by a single vote, and I don't expect that to change tonight ... it is the aggregate that counts. My one ballot will not win or lose a seat for the Tories, and will therefore not be the difference between Stephen Harper being either Prime Minister or a sad little footnote in the annals of election history. But it will make me feel better to cast it for the only candidate that made a fucking effort.

See you at the polls.

Posted at 04:06 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Breaking Blackberry News

The gang in Waterloo was quick to get out a press release regarding this morning's U.S. Supreme Court decision ... carefully trying to spin the result so as not to completely panic their shareholders and (as apparently an afterthough) placate their user base. Big thanks to the most awesome Sockmonkey for the tip.

You really have to pack some grains of salt when you try and parse this bit of PR legerdemain, though, and carefully read between the lines. There is a fair amount of deliberate confounding going on there ... but to be fair I can guarantee you that NTP's inevitable press release will be every bit as biased and possibly loaded with even more blatant misdirection.

So what is really going on? Confusion, mostly. It would help if RIM were a little more transparent and forthcoming - the brick wall they have built around themselves since the start of this whole mess is more than a tad off-putting - but for now, this is about the best analysis of of the situation that I have found at this particular point in time.

Posted at 02:36 PM     Read More  

The Heart And Soul Of Death Metal

New Strong Bad email! Three words: Decay, Despair, DeLouise.

Posted at 12:39 PM     Read More  

Breaking Blackberry News

Posted at 10:33 AM     Read More  

Election Day

The time has come. Today we elect a new government, and there are some certainties involved:

1 - The new Prime Minister will be a hypocrite, a sleazebag, an asshole, or a combination thereof.

2 - Myron Thompson will inexplicably be returned to the House of Commons yet again.

3 - Jack Layton will claim a great victory for the socialist movement no matter how many seats the NDP scrape together.

4 - Rick Mercer's election night special will be hilarious.

5 - No candidate in any riding will display even a tenuous grasp of tech and/or communications issues.

6 - Peter Mansbridge will be on the air for less that 48 seconds before he utters the first "fascinating".

So get yourself a nap this afternoon and settle in with an extra big bowl of popcorn tonight. Still to come: The results of the Great Local Candidate email extravaganza! Stay tuned!

Posted at 09:32 AM     Read More  

Smartie 0175

106,808: The number of product placements in prime time shows on the four American television networks in 2005.

Posted at 09:01 AM     Read More  

Sun - January 22, 2006

Dackita dackita dickita dit dit dack.

Yeah, so I am a complete sucker for retro tech. Especially cheesy 50s and 60s "gee whiz" stuff with lots of dials and groovy logos. So I am 100% unable to resist this retrofit of an iPod into a vintage "Duck and cover, the commies are coming!" civil defense geiger counter.

Posted at 11:55 PM     Read More  

Fri - January 20, 2006

Smartie 0174.3

33000: The average number of bacteria per square centimeter on a computer keyboard.

Posted at 07:53 AM     Read More  

Thu - January 19, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

The NDP candidate in my riding checked in late last night with a fucking form letter. Unbelievable. Worse, it was a form letter and it came two and a half days after I sent my query. The obvious inference is that:

A) the socialist candidate is such a techno-feeb that she can't work an email client to actually send a reply, and

B) her staff is so inept that they can't even figure out how to set an auto-reply and they have some poor drone copying and pasting the canned response into manual replies.

Un-fucking-believable. I mean, Stephen Harper is a racist, homophobic, demonstrably stupid lunatic. He is probably the single most disgusting and unlikable political figure in the last 30 years (and yes, I am including both Brian Mulroney and Slobodan Milosevic in that list) and voting for the possibility that he may become Prime Minister is about appealing as cutting off your own fingers one by one with a very rusty steak knife ... but the monkeys from the other parties aren't really giving me a choice here.

Jeezus, people, get with the program. Try and win my goddamn vote!

Posted at 10:26 AM     Read More  

Smartie 0174.2

350: The average number of bacteria per square centimeter on a home toilet seat.

Posted at 07:52 AM     Read More  

Say Cheese

The Great Camera And Film Shakeout continues. At CES this year a senior technical developer at Fuji gave a seminar in which he revealed that it is now cheaper to make disposable digital cameras than it is to make disposable film cameras. A couple of weeks later, Nikon gave notice that they are ceasing the manufacture and sales of 35mm film cameras, claiming that the consumer film format is officially dead.

Now Konica/Minolta has announced the ultimate bombshell - they are getting out of the camera biz, period. They claim that the market is too crowded, but if you read between the lines of the quotes, it become pretty obvious that they didn't get on the digital bandwagon fast enough, and whey they did they didn't have products that could compete. Generally, Minolta digital gear does suck pretty large, but their copiers are no better so I am not sure how this counts as a better business path. Wait and see, I guess ...

Posted at 06:16 AM     Read More  

Wed - January 18, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

Whaddya know, somebody wrote back. My local Tory took the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer my questions. I can't say that I agree with him on some of the answers, but actually taking the time to make me feel like my vote counts goes a long way in my books.

The other mopes still have a few days, but I am not holding out hope ...

Posted at 04:10 PM     Read More  

Geek Idol

Best. Thing. Ever.

Oooo, oooo ... baby ...

Posted at 04:06 PM     Read More  

Smartie 0174.1

130: The average number of bacteria per square centimeter on a public toilet seat.

Posted at 08:52 AM     Read More  

Tue - January 17, 2006

Geekback - Disenfranchised

It has now been more than 24 hours since I emailed each of the four main candidates in my riding with questions regarding their opinions and policies. And, with the exception of confirmation that the Green Party is well and truly inept, there has been zero acknowledgment or communication. Do these fenderheads not want my vote? Do they not get the whole concept of "campaigning"?

Six days left to wait, I guess ...

Posted at 11:14 AM     Read More  

Smartie 0173

2509: The number of public libraries that reviled "robber baron" Andrew Carnegie built and paid for during his lifetime.

Posted at 10:38 AM     Read More  

8 Bits Of Wearable Joy

It was mentioned last week in These Very Pages that we are hard upon the 30th anniversary of Steve and Steve cobbling together the first Apple - arguably the first "personal" computer, as even the dreaded PET and much-less-dreaded TRS-80 were really aimed at the business crowd.

While Apple obviously has something planned for the big event in April, you can get a head start now with a new shirt from Tomi: The Wozwear 6502. This is easily the coolest shirt Tomi has done to date ... nay, this is the coolest shirt of all time, ever, period.

Goes on sale tonight (Tuesday) at 9:00 EST. 300 units only, signed and authenticated. Don't miss out.

Posted at 08:07 AM     Read More  

Mon - January 16, 2006

Some People Seem To Have The Wrong Idea

Some people are apparently of the mind that I spend too much time and burn too much space writing about iPod-related things. This, obviously, is patent nonsense. If I was guilty of that sort of bias, then I would probably post something about the new iPod compatible jeans from Levis. I might even go on to talk about the control pad embedded in the "change pocket" (a legacy feature if ever I have seen one) and the built-in 4G/5G/nano docking cradle.

But, since I didn't do any of those things, those aforementioned people can all just shush up.

Posted at 10:49 PM     Read More  

Geekback - Disenfranchised

More than eight hours - one full business day - after I wrote to my local candidates, I have only received one "reply", and it wasn't one that is going to early my precious vote. The Girts, Tories, and NDP are still maintaining radio silence but I found this in my mailbox, courtesy of Susan Wadsworth (Green Party, Hamilton Mountain):

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

Technical details of permanent failure:
PERM_FAILURE: SMTP Error (state 9): 550 5.1.1 <>... User unknown

Nice. There is no excuse for that. Period. I don't care what your policies or who you are, if you cant make your fucking email link work from your own campaign web site, then you don't get my vote. Jeezus. The question I lobbed her way was a real softball, too - but she never made it to the plate.

Thanks for coming out.

Posted at 07:55 PM     Read More  


Okay, so I figure that I have already pretty much blown my "no blogging about the election" vow, and I can more or less spew at will now. Here's the deal: I cannot find it in my heart to cast my vote based on the leadership of the big three national parties - the choice between The Slimy Thieving Loser, The Creepy Nazi Loser, and The Completely Hypocritical Loser is not a choice that I care to consciously make. So in the true spirit of the parliamentary style of government, I have dashed off emails to four of my local candidates, asking their opinions on issues that matter to me.

Their responses (or lack thereof) will determine my vote. I'll cast my ballot for the best of the local mopes, regardless of the general ickyness that surrounds the leader that they happened to be attached to.

Posted at 05:19 PM     Read More  

Still Burninating After All These Years

Trogdor turns 3 today. There is a link to the original cartoon at the end, but if you are a newcomer, this whole thing won't make much sense unless you watch the original first.

You're welcome.

Posted at 02:54 PM     Read More  

Smartie 0172

2: The percentage of New Mexico that Ted Turner owns.

Posted at 02:13 PM     Read More  

A Fashion Statement

The iPod clickwheels are startling beautiful things. They work as well as they look ... unless you happen to be wearing gloves. In that case, forget it. The 'wheels work by reading fingertip capacitance, not (as many assume) by detecting pressure on the wheel. Most gloves are effective enough insulators to screw this up royally. Makes it kind of tough to be both groovy and warm when it's January north of the 49th.

Enter the Tavo Gloves ... they have conducting fingertips to let you shuffle and scan and still keep your digits from freezing. They look ridiculous, of course, but that is the price you pay in these trying times.

Note: Some poor souls who have shitty internal bioelectrical systems just can''t use the iPod wheels at all - their fingers just dont register. Apparently, the conductive powers of these gloves will even overcome that. But they probably look even dorkier if you wear them inside.

Posted at 06:49 AM     Read More  

Podcasting How-To

Podcast this, podcast that. Everyone is on and on and on about it, including me. It's this great communication tool, everyone can play, power to the people, grassroots media, blah blah blah. That's all great, but nobody stops and takes the time to actually tell you how to do it.

I was going to correct that little oversight ... but then I realized that some french maids are a far more entertaining collection of tutors than I am.

Pay attention, you might learn something.

Posted at 05:50 AM     Read More  

Fri - January 13, 2006

MacWorld Postmortem

A couple of interesting things are being talked about at the Apple campuses in Cupertino and Toronto today ...

THING ONE: The keynote you heard was not the keynote that Steve planned to give. The sort of interminable lag in the middle while he demoed iLife (including an unrehearsed bit of "podcasting") was to cover for the fact that a key product announcement was dropped at literally the eleventh hour. The "one more thing" was not supposed to be the new drool-inducing MacBook ... the new laptop was supposed to be shown alongside the new iMac. The shuffle (pun intended) was made because Apple cannot get enough of the Core Duo (nee Yonah) chips right now, and they expect so much demand for this whatever-it-is that they fear insane backorders unless they have stock the day they announce it.

So what was the real "one more thing"? What is this magic device that needs a huge supply of the new chips? Annoyingly, everyone is being wildly tight-lipped about it, but I was told two things:

One -"It is much cooler than anything on the market now."

Two - "You probably shouldn't order a MacBook until you see this."


THING TWO: One of the apps that will ship with the built-in software suite on the new MacBooks will be Plasq's stupidly fun Comic Life package. If you read my blatherings for any sort of time, you will know what this application is and why I think it is the greatest thing since sliced pizza. If you are new to the drill, Comic Life is a wicked-cool little photo manipulation thing that looks into your iPhoto library and lets you make totally fun shit like this:

Yes, it's moronic, that is the point. The above took me 10 minutes to make (including the shooting the photos), so you can inflict this sort of shit like a plague into your friends' inboxes, much to the delight of all. Or at least you. As built-in apps go, this is a winner.

Posted at 02:15 PM     Read More  

Smartie 0171

410: The number of grams of botulism bacteria needed to kill every person on earth.

Posted at 09:31 AM     Read More  

Rye And Coke

Some people have asked why I haven't mentioned the election. Really, though, what is there to say? There are two losers, and one of those losers - either the lying thieving loser or the homophobic nazi loser - is going to be the new Prime Minister. Not really worth wasting words on. BUT - if you have to pick a loser, well, this pretty much puts it all into perspective:

Posted at 09:18 AM     Read More  

Animal Crossing Gold

If you own Animal Crossing : Wild World you should make sure that you go online at some point during your play today. You don't even have to visit another village, just open the gates to yours in Nintendo WFC mode. You'll find that Iwata-san has left you a special New Year's greeting. And no, I won't spill the surprise. You have to see for yourself.

Posted at 04:36 AM     Read More  

Geekback - Lost?

Speaking of Google and Blackberries, there are reports that there will be an official Talk Google client for the 'berry Real Soon Now. This is pretty funny, because when Talk Google was announced, I heard that folks at RIM were forbidden to even mention it.

There is no word yet on when the client will see the light of day, or how you will get it, but the sooner the better. This is a seriously welcome development - the legions of Blackberry users out there now running around with hacked or badly-ported versions of other Java-based Jabber clients are probably getting sick of resetting their SIM card 8 times a day after catastrophic crashes. And yes, I'm guilty as charged.

Posted at 04:28 AM     Read More  


In case anyone missed it (the announcements of this were less than intrusive) there is now a version of Google Maps / Google Local available for a large number of Java-enable cell phones, including the Blackberry. There are some limitations with the package to be sure - most of the "Google Local" data is only for locations in the states, and the distances are in bogus Imperial units with, oddly, no way for the user to select otherwise. I mean, come on, even General Motors products have this feature, which is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

However, it does give you a searchable map and driving directions in a portable format. It is slow, and will never replace a GPS, but in a pinch it looks like it is really handy. Visit the Google Local for Mobile page to download this directly to your handheld ... which is another little bonus on it's own. No jerking around with an external installer that some manufacturers like to torment you with. Enjoy.

Posted at 02:04 AM     Read More  

Thu - January 12, 2006


The new emphasis on GarageBand in iLife '06 has a lot of people starting to poke around with the idea of making something cool. Towards that end, here is a fairly comprehensive collection of free loops for GarageBand.

Posted at 07:49 AM     Read More  


The old saw about it being "aerodynamically impossible for bees to fly" has been put to rest. Another kick in the head for the "intelligent design" crowd, so I heartily approve.

Posted at 06:48 AM     Read More