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November 2006 Archives

Keep that wrist-strap on, and wipe your hands if they're sweaty

Here's a site dedicated to Wii-induced damage. There are a few cases of wrist-straps breaking, but more cases of people who didn't wear them. May many fancy TVs rest in peace. Of course, Wii bowling isn't the only place where things go flying. Apparently, it can happen in regular old bowling, too.

Finally, remember that bit I blogged about how the "sensor bar" is actually just two IR lights? Well, what can make for an IR replacement? Two candles, of course!

Universal Characters

Looking around online, I see that the main complaint about The Fountain is that its characters aren't well-developed. I normally care about characters, but I feel like the broadly drawn characters are appropriate here. This is a movie about universal ideas, and so the characters are, well, focused on the cores of those ideas. Aronofsky called his movie "a psychedelic fairy tale", and that's kind of what it is. It's almost a fable or myth in tone, and I don't complain that the tortoise and the hare need to be more complexly developed characters, my own attempt aside. :P


I blogged the Fountain teaser a year ago, and I finally got around to seeing it tonight.

First of all, let me say that it'd be a travesty for this movie not to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. It's one of the best uses of the medium I've seen in a long time. It's not quite as trippy as I imagined, though. If anything, I actually felt like the movie was too focused and made too much sense. :P It could've used more tangents. But I suppose that was part of the point of it.

Anyway, I'm not sure it lives up to the hype, but it was definitely very good and very different. I guarantee there won't even be another movie this year you could reasonably compare it to, even, positively or negatively.

And now, my homage to the film's golden color theme:

[Ferrero Rocher in a teacup filled with water]

I call it The Ferrero of Youth. (This is what happens when it's 2am, and I haven't come up with any ideas for my photo of the day yet. :P)

P.S.: The color theme in the film is probably due to the connections between gold, wealth, and longevity, and Ferrero Rochers are popular gifts among Chinese people partly due to the golden foil wrapping, so it just occurred to me that this picture might make more sense than it seems at first glance. :P

Wii Bowling Lies to you

[two pins on the right, player on the left]

This is Wii Bowling. The game says to twist your hand to curve the ball. I was rather impressed that the ball would tend to spin left, just like real life. I figured it was because I was right-handed, and I naturally twist my wrist a bit. I was impressed by the subtlety of control. When the pins were on my right, I twisted my hand right, and it would spin right. If I used both hands, I could get it to go straight. Cool, right? The Wii controller could sense the slightest of wrist twists. Impressive. Right?

Well, given the situation above, try to make the ball spin LEFT. You can't. It's impossible. In fact, most of the twist control is just an illusion! Yes, if you use both hands, you can get it within a small range where it actually goes straight, but if you give it the slightest twist, it will always spin in the direction of the pins (within certain limits). The easy way to test this is (assuming you're right-handed) to start to the left of the pins and just bowl normally. Or even intentionally twist left. Note that the ball will now curve right, leftward twist be damned.

Within the game, this means that strikes are largely a matter of luck, but that spares are relatively easy to pick up. Beyond this game, however, it means that the Wii controller's sensitivity is probably not as good as it seems at first glance, and that they have had to fudge it quite a bit. They might also have just done this to make the bowling game easier, I guess, to make beginners happier... but at the expense of making you lose your sense of accomplishment and enjoyment once you realize how much of your score is based on luck.

Either way, it is another demonstration of the Wii control scheme's focus on "perceived performance".

Update (Jan-24-2007): I thought I'd respond to the comments below over here as well. So I did more testing, and I have noticed that, contrary to what I thought, you can control the amount of spin, so that you can make it spin more or less. However, I still maintain that you cannot control the direction of spin.

When you start a lane, hit "right" a few times so you're standing to the right of the head pin, but facing straight. Now try to get the ball to curve into the right-side gutter. It is impossible. You can only curve it left. (If you aim to the left of the head pin, you can only curve it right.) However, it is possible to curve the ball very little so it misses the head pin on the right or curve it a lot so it misses the head pin on the left.

There is more skill involved than I thought, but the direction of curve is still determined before you throw.

Wiimote Vision

I'm fascinated by how the Wii Remote Controller (barely visible on the right) makes you think it's doing more than it does. You put this "sensor bar" on top of your TV, and you think that it's somehow magically detecting exactly where in 3-dimentional space your "Wiimote" is. I mean, you can move it, and it detects that, and you can even point at things on the screen. But in fact, the Wiimote is actually two completely separate technologies.

(1) There are accelerometers inside the controller that detect orientation and, well, acceleration. What it does NOT do is detect POSITION in any way, but it gives the illusion of detecting that through human behavior. For instance, in the boxing game, you kind of naturally hold your controllers up vertically to keep your fists high, and you kind of naturally hold them horizontally when your arms are down low.. But the game doesn't actually know if your arms are high or low. You can test this by turning your hands while holding them high: The game starts thinking your fists are low, etc. So how can you point at things on the screen if it doesn't know the position of your controller?

(2) The "sensor bar" atop your TV is not sensing anything at all. Instead, it's actually just a couple of IR lights. it's your Wiimote that actually has a camera! There is a calibration screen where you can see this in action, and that's what's pictured here. What you see is the view from the Wiimote. It sees the two dots of the "sensor bar" near the bottom right, tilted right, so it knows that you're actually pointing the controller at the top left, and tilting it left. Awesome, no? In fact, there's a YouTube video of a couple of guys using two regular remote controls to simulate the sensor bar.

The sensor bar in this picture is the thing with purple dots on top of the TV. Here's a close-up:

What's neat about this is that those lights are completely invisible to the naked eye, because they're infrared, but the CCDs on my digital camera pick it up somehow. Just another reminder that cameras and eyes actually work differently. :)

P.S.: I brought my Wii to Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I only have one controller, it was still a hit among the "adults". My mom got really into the bowling game. If Nintendo can keep releasing games that are as accessible as Wii Sports, they could really expand their market. I think the tough part now is getting the third parties to think in that mindset.

Working up a sweat playing Wii Boxing

I'll spare you my actual shirtless self and present you with this virtual version (what Nintendo calls a "Mii").

[Mii Boxing]

Beware of Jiffy Lube

My latest flickr post is another picture that was just an excuse to rant about something. Text reproduced here:

A few months ago, I got an oil change at Jiffy Lube. They wanted me to get my A/C filter changed, and I agreed. A short time later, I see this Xanga post from my friend which links to this exposé of Jiffy Lube ripping people off. They put marks on parts and installed hidden cameras before going to various Jiffy Lubes. The shops recommended various part swaps and charged for them, but never did anything. (This happened at 5 of 9 Jiffy Lubes they went to.) Jiffy Lube corporate apparently responded by training their employees on how not to get caught. You gotta watch the video. But I figured hopefully I didn't get ripped off on my A/C filter change. Oh well.

Meanwhile, a few months later, I went to my trusted mechanic for normal preventative maintenance and told them my A/C filter had already been changed. They told me that no, it had not been changed, that the filter in my car was representative of 30K miles of usage, not 5K. (That's the old filter pictured.) Now, my mechanic could be the ones lying to me, but I'm much more inclined to believe him than Jiffy Lube, after watching that news report.

The moral of the story is: I'll be sure never to do anything other than the oil changes themselves at random places in the future. I'll save all the part replacements for my regular, trusted mechanic.

Sad Toast

A gift from eatflan.

Scarab at a Foster City Teen Center

"The Vibe" was fully packed, as you can see here:

Behind Mel is a question often asked of the band:

Pipe's got crazy hair:

I never realized how much Mark looks like Goose:

Mel's singing, "WhatEVER":

If I were a humanities professor...

I would devote myself to researching swear words, not just their etymology, which is a well-covered subject, but their socio-political context throughout history and throughout the different cultures of the world. I want to know not just what each swear word means or where it comes from, but why it's a swear word, the degree to which it's a swear word, reactions to and views toward each one in different segments of society, and its short term and long term impact on that society.

P.S.: I'd say that racial epithets are sort of like swear words, and there's certainly a lot of crossover (from calling people "gay" to talking about being "gypped"), but that's such a complicated topic it could support a whole group of my grad students on its own!

Go check out Saheli's work blog

Everyone, go check out my friend Saheli's work blog for Business 2.0, Soft Gadgets & Hard Numbers.

Watching Studio 60

(Project 365 Day 26)

Here you are, watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip as if you were me.

Japanese John Hodgman

Apparently, there are Japanese versions of the Mac guy/PC guy ads! (Scroll down on that page to see links to the other ones.) Update: Aha! The actors are the same guys who made this hilarious Sushi-eating rules video that I blogged about a while back. I knew they looked familiar!

Great Highway

Here's my latest project365 picture:

[Great Highway]

(Project 365 Day 24)

I went down to Ocean Beach at sunset, knowing that sunsets are really difficult to take pictures of (because people have already seen so many), but I figured I'd find something interesting somehow, and I did! The ocean was behind me as I took this picture.

Rudeness goes Pro!

Whenever I go to China, I'm amazed at how rude people are when confronted with a line. Well, maybe it's not all bad, because they're apparently exporting their skills to Japan as professional shovers: At the PlayStation 3 launch in Japan, most of the early buyers were hired Chinese immigrants. After buying the consoles, they turned in the consoles to their businessman bosses who planned to resell the new machines for jacked up prices.

When they tried to interview the first person to buy a PS3, the poor guy just kinda shied away. It turned out he didn't even speak Japanese.

A gruff-looking Bic Camera manager was the first to realize the problem - nobody in line understood the directions his employees were screaming. He quickly grabbed one of his Chinese-speaking employees, put him on top of a ladder, handed him a megaphone, and instructed the young man to address the crowd in Chinese.

The sales spree continued back over at the registers, and not everything was running smoothly. One elderly Chinese man, next in line to buy a PS3, was in a state of panic. He explained to a Bic Camera employee that his "friend" has his money, but that he is further back in the line. After further investigation, these poor Chinese are not given the 60,000 yen to purchase the PS3 until minutes before their reach the registers, perhaps out of fear that some will run off with the money. The Bic Camera employee assisted the elderly gentlemen, escorting him back to the cash registered after he received the cash from his good "friend."

Why wait in line yourself, only to buy one machine at a time, when you can just hire swarms of poor people to go brave the lines and buy a bunch of them for you so you can flip them for a profit?

(I got the link from this /. article, where most of the comments are along the lines of, "What's wrong with hiring poor people and buying an under-priced product to sell at market value?" Many other comments defend Sony against the complaints of the article, saying things long the lines of, "I don't like much of what Sony does, but I don't see how this is their fault." Is it just me, or are /. comments actually getting less knee-jerk and more level-headed?!)

Life Imitates Art, Voting Machine Edition

Exhibit A: Democracy DIEs BOLDly

Exhibit B: Voter smashes touch-screen machine in Allentown


"Hairline Fractures"

I had a really horrifying dream last night, and it involved no monsters, no villains, only an X-Ray. When I woke up from this nightmare, I grabbed my laptop and jotted down some notes on what I remembered. Here's my reconstruction:

In the dream, I'm in a hospital for some reason, and I'm looking at this grayscale X-Ray image of my heart, except the view is more like a 3-D model; you can zoom around and rotate and so forth. The doctor zooms in on my heart, and says, "I'm afraid we've found some hairline fractures on your heart."

I understand immediately. It means that my heart is cracked and could explode at any moment. (In the dream, I somehow believe that that's what a heart attack is.) To drill the point home, the animation shows the fractures in my heart cracking open and my heart bursting open. I'm freaked.

I start explaining to the doctor about how I used to eat so much KFC, and how I regret it now. I may die any day now, without warning, and it terrifies me. I start thinking about how I'm still single, and how I haven't really accomplished anything grand with my life yet, oh my god I'm going to die... and I collapse on the floor into a fetal position and just break down crying.

Eventually, the doctor helps me up and asks me about my life. (Somehow the doctor is now more like a God type figure.) I mention how I just got a new job, and I'm eating pretty healthy now that Google feeds me. (My notes at this point say, "And someone starts tweaking the official logo in the yard, which I didn't even see. :P" I have absolutely no idea what that means, and I don't remember that part of the dream at all now. :P) But I lament that, although I finally started going to the gym regularly for the first time in my life recently, I haven't been in over a month now, and I really should go. It's like I'm trying to convince this God that I'm really a good person and deserve to live.

I actually wonder, in the dream, if this is all just a joke. This can't be real. It must be a prank or something. But then I see an image of those "hairline fractures" in my heart again, and I start freaking out again. No, this has to be real, because it's not funny. It's not funny enough to be a joke. It's real. I'm going to die. AAAAAAA!

And then I wake up.

There are those moments of confusion where I'm not sure how much of it was real and how much was not, and then I gradually see that it was just a dream. *whew*

I have no idea where that came from, btw. I vaguely recall reading something about heart disease being the biggest cause of death in the US a few days ago, but I already knew that at the time. I think I watched the Fast Food Nation movie trailer a while back too, but I dunno. I do worry sometimes about all that KFC I used to eat, and I feel guilty that I still eat it sometimes. Heart attacks aren't actually something that normally keep me up at night, but for some reason I had a nightmare about them.

And there is still something deeply freaky about the idea of having actual fractures in your heart that could cause it to burst open at any moment. I mean, a really bad heart attack can burst an artery or something, but still, "hairline fractures" in my heart? *shudder*

You can't spell VIOLENT without V-O-T-E

My latest flickr post is of my voter information guide. I still know embarrassingly little about the gubernatorial race, though, and since neither Schwarzenegger nor Angelides were in the voter information guide, that couldn't help me. (You have to adhere to voluntary campaign spending limits to be in the guide.) I mean, Schwarzenegger does seem like he's finally making good on some of his promises to get the two parties to compromise, but I'm very much a DNC democrat for the most part, and don't agree with everything Schwarzenegger does. Now add to that the fact that I've hardly heard a thing about Angelides, good or bad, and I'm left pretty confused.

The other thing that bothered me was the number of bond measures on the ballot. I guess it's the save-before-spend Chinese in me, but I am just not a fan of loans. It seems to me that if we weren't paying off interest on the bonds of the past, we wouldn't even need the bonds on the ballot now... Shouldn't loans and bonds be for emergency needs and not everyday things? I guess I'd prefer new taxes to bonds, but new taxes are politically untenable.

I guess it's just part of our system now, though. One of my other nits is the idea of propositions in general. I don't like direct democracy. I figure we just don't have enough facts to make good decisions on most measures. So I ultimately decided to just go with the legislators and approve most of the bond measures.

I'm not so hot about the transportation one, though. I mean, are our roads really so bad that we need to borrow all that money to fix them right now? We already live in a country that heavily subsidizes road travel. I feel like the roads are doing fine as they are, and our money is better spent elsewhere. And yet, that's the one that was approved by the widest margin in the state legislature. I'm confused. And also, am I against the transportation one just because the other bonds are for touchy feely stuff? I mean, sure, homeless shelters are nice and all, but could we build more shelters in the long run with a bunch of money now or by building them over time with the added help of money we would've spent on bond interest?

I dunno. I imagine there are a lot of secondary effects of bonds, too, that I don't full appreciate, like how bond repayments take precedence over other budget items, so bonds become an odd way of enforcing priority in a way that you couldn't do just by pledging a certain amount of money each year for some cause. (Of course, that's just more evidence that these things are used to game the system in an inefficient way.) Anyone else know more about this stuff than I do care to elaborate?

I'm hoping I get to vote on a paper ballot this time, at least. Today's Diesel Sweeties takes on e-voting, and I'm now a bigger fan of Red Robot than ever. :D (Thus the title of this post.)

So yeah, if you're a US citizen, go out and vote today! Saheli pointed out that you can call 1-866-MY-VOTE-1 to find your polling place if you're registered but lost your voter pamphlet.

Update: I voted. My precinct uses electronic voting machines, but at least they had a paper record this time. I thought that was kinda cool and wanted to take a picture, but I asked the poll workers for permission and they wouldn't let me. Even though I was the only person in the polling center at the time, I can understand their adherence to the rules. Still, I refused the "I VOTED TOUCHSCREEN" sticker. I'd totally proudly wear an "I VOTED" sticker, but I am still not proud of voting touchscreen. (It's still too easy to fudge the numbers a little, but not enough to trigger a recount of the paper trail.)

iPod vending machine

I've seen these blogged before, but I had never seen one in person until today. It's my latest project365 post.

CGN: Computer-Generated News?

So I saw this project to automatically pull images from the web about a news story and then have characters from the game Half-Life deliver the news to you, in an automated way. Seems kinda silly, to be honest, because isn't the whole point of watching TV news to get some actual personality into our news?

But what is perhaps more interesting is that many news stories are already actually computer-generated! Many financial stories about earnings and such are computer generated, it seems, which makes sense, since they're very predictable and standard, and there are tons of them. It's the Postmodern Essay Generator put to real use! :)

(Of course, when people do use computers to do stuff like, generate fake scientific papers and get them accepted, other people will try to make detectors that tell those papers apart from real ones.

Toast blogs and biology!

Rajat was pointing me to people more devoted to toast than I am! Behold: Mr. Toast and Dr. Toast! The latter just posted about a toast printer that's totally awesome. :) The Word spreads!

Also, Vinod sent me this beautiful microbiology animation montage.

And speaking of biology, go to the Association of International Glaucoma Societies and download the The Glaucoma Hymn [WMA, 3.4 MB, 3'38"] Glaucoma!

Finally, who needs beer goggles when you can just have lack-of-food goggles?

And speaking of eyes, did you know that just putting up a picture of eyes makes people more honest?

I swear I don't actually have anything against Salvadorans

A very strange dream I had, where I was talking to my friend Jenny (in the dream):

K: It was a Latino guy, Salvadoran or something.
J: I hate that word: Salvadoran. It's a made up word.
K: What do you mean? It's just someone from El Savador.
J: No it's not. It's a derogatory word.
K: Really? I'm pretty sure it's just someone from El Salvador. (Thinking: Or maybe San Salvador? That's just the capital of El Salvador, right? Or is it the other way around? No, I'm pretty sure El Salvador is the country.) Salvadoran. Someone from El Salvador!
J: No. It's not.
K: Okay, let's look it up.

I look it up, and Jenny's right! The dictionary says:

sal·va·do·ran (săl'və-dôr'ən)
adj. Fake or invented. He gave a phony, salvadoran excuse. That swindler sold salvadoran products.

K: Whoa. Hey, you're actually right. It's just a normal word. Bizarre. I could've sworn it meant someone from El Salvador. Hm. I wonder what you do call someone from El Salvador, then...

And as I'm about to go look up El Salvador to figure that out, I wake up.

* * *

Real definition:

Sal·va·do·ran (săl'və-dôr'ən, -dōr'-)
adj. Of or relating to El Salvador or its people or culture.
n. A native or inhabitant of El Salvador.

About November 2006

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in November 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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