Innocent Bystander

A little tech, a little current affairs, and my view on whatever has my attention at the moment...

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Don't Stay Out Too Late...

I like computer games, especially ones that you play online. I'm not talking about completing jigsaw puzzles over on (although that's enjoyable too). No I'm talking about something a little more action oriented, like storming a computer generated battlefied with a team of friends like in Battlefield 1942 or massacring those same friends in a holographic combat area like in Star Trek Voyager Elite Force. I even played Star Wars Galaxies for a few months, although I grew tired of the grinding monotny of trying to grow my character.

The ability to play against human opponents who think and act unpredictable as opposed to a weak computer drone has been a huge selling point for multiplayer games for quite a while now. Apparently it can even make the online gaming experience addictive.

Consider for example this story I heard about on the BBC. A Malaysian teenager was reported missing by his family, he was found 48 hours later in a cybercafe. He had been playing games there for the 48 hours he'd been missing! While that's not the big point of the story (which I'll get to in a second) the fact that he had spent the past 48 hours playing games amazes me. Being a gamer myself, I find that I can't sit for more than two maybe three hours before the repitive motions from playing games starts to make me sore and the chair I'm sitting in becomes uncomfortable... So how could he stand to sit and play for 48 hours?!?!

However in response to this story, the town of Subang Jaya outside the Malaysian capitol of Kuala Lumpur has decided to institute curfews on gaming in the towns cyber-cafes starting next year...

Oh but that's not all, if you want to operate a cyber-cafe that allows gaming in Subang Jaya you'll need to get a special license and also set aside a seperate area for gamers different from the area for other internet users. Finally, you'll need to shut down your gaming area after midnight.

Special teams will be deployed to enforce the new rules and cafes that don't follow the rules risk loosing their license. Supporters of the plan believe that it will reduce crime and help to prevent gamers from getting addicted... Gamers resent the intrusion (there's a shocker!).

I can't imagine any town in the US getting away with such an intrusion. Most people who game in the US probably do so at home on a broadband connection, and there's no way such a rule could be enforced on home users. I'm guessing that in Malaysia however there aren't nearly as many homes with broadband connections, otherwise affected gamers could just go home and log on...

The other thing that struck me about the story was down at the end. According to the article there are millions of gamers in some Asian companies, it's a professional sport in South Korea, and in China of all places there was a murder over a game...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

At The Crossroads of Style and Craptacular....

So has anybody actually bought the iTunes phone? You know the Motorola Rockr?

A phone that single handedly managed to embarass Steve Jobs who couldn't get it to work right when he announced it to the world. The phone that was so eagerly awaited that when the reviewers all got their hands on it they declared it to be positively craptacular! The thing is ugly, difficult to use and has a serious limit to the number of songs it can hold... oh and nobody's been really enthused with it's sound quality either...

Well, it looks like Apple and Motorola are going to try it again. Although the latest Apple/Moto frankenphone will be an update on the popular Motorola Razr... The Dutch website Amobil is reporting that the new Razr V3i will have a version that is iTunes enabled just like the Rokr phone. The phone will have a limited 12MB of memory (it is a skinny phone after all) but will be expandable using transflash memory cards, something that the Rokr boasted as well. It's unknown at this time if the new Razr V3i will be hobbled by the same 100 song limit that the Rokr is hog tied by...

Me, I'll pass. I've never been a big fan of the Razr anyway. Yeah it looked cool, but I wasn't thrilled with using the dialpad. Plus Motorola's user interface design leaves A LOT to be desired. Besides, I've already got a 60GB iPod photo, with a 20GB 4G iPod collecting dust, what do I need another iTunes device for?

Monday, November 07, 2005

But Will it Protect Me From My Id?

LeVar Burton once called it the "grand-daddy of modern sci-fi movies." It's star was a very young Leslie Nielsen who was in just his second movie at the time... The movie is Forbidden Planet...

And now thanks to the folks at Hammacher Schlemmer (someplace that I can't even afford to walk INTO let alone buy anything from) you get one of the most recognized things from the movie... Why for just $49,999.95 you can get your very own lifesize replica of Robbie the Robot!
Now you don't just get a static 7 foot tall statue for your money either... Oh no, the gyros and other mechanisms in his head really work, his head moves and he's programed with some of his lines from the movie. There's more to his built in sound system though, why it's CD quality and synchronized with the neon lights, oh and you can even connect it up to your home theater system! Use him to greet your guests, you can speak through Robby with the included wireless microphone....However unlike the Robbie from the movie, your $49,999.95 won't buy you a replica that will cook, clean your house, make 50 gallons of whiskey on demand, or even walk... although stick this one in your front window and it might freak out your neighbors...

Is This Really a Good Idea?

I found this over on Engadget, it seems some artists in Berlin have been cobbling together a Mac Mini with a projector and a battery. They are then taking this contraption and sticking it onto the side of subway cars with a suction cup. What happens is that the Mini + Projector then projects images onto the walls of the subway tunnels as the train rumbles through...

This is really one of those things that on the surface seems kinda cool... A few eccentric artists trying to brighten up what might normally be a dreary commute...

And then you really think about it...

Some whacko sticking a strange box with wires on the side of a subway train... In this post Madrid & London bombing, post September 11th world, if you saw something like this happen are you going to be thinking "ooohhh cool?" Or are you going to be thinking "Holy Crap RUN!!!!!"

Saturday, October 29, 2005

More Vending Machine Wackiness

Apparently these are big in Japan, but Vodaphone in England has just started rolling these out. It's exactly what it looks like, a vending machine that dispenses pre-paid cell phones and SIM cards.

So far it's just a pilot program, the machines have been placed just in Vodaphone stores. If they are popular then they may start appearing in public locations outside of the stores.

You know I thought that the iPod vending machine was pointless, but this is worse. Pre-paid cellphones aka disposable phones are well known to be favored not only by those who don't like contract or monthly bills, but also by those who don't want their movements to be traced. They can buy one of these phones, make a few calls to conduct your questionable business and then toss the phone and no one's the wiser. Who else needs a quick phone at 3AM?

What Can't You Get From a Vending Machine?

You can remove iPod's from the list of things you can't get from a vending machine. Spotted in the Atlanta Airport:

Now on the surface this seems like a wonderful idea... Almost as great as the kiosks in the airport that rent (and also sell) movies and portable DVD players. You're hanging around the airport terminal on a 3 hour layover with nothing to do, or even worse, getting ready to hop on a trans-continental flight on an airline that doesn't have in-flight entertainment worth a crap (ummm Southwest and Northwest, I'm thinking of you two!) why not pick-up a movie or two to watch in-flight on your laptop or rent (or buy) a portable DVD player to keep you from going insane while you're crammed into the middle seat at the back of a 757 for 5 hours? That makes sense...

But pick up an iPod at the airport? Why? You won't be able to use it because that brand new iPod won't have any songs on it for starters. Well that's useless... Now maybe you keep all your songs on your laptop that you're toting with you in iTunes, well then why buy an iPod at the airport? Just plug in your headphones (or if you're in Atlanta buy a set of noise canceling headphones from the Brookestone in the terminal) and listen to your tunes...

Plus, anybody who has purchased a new iPod has already discovered that a) even a small library around 5GB takes as much as 45 minutes to transfer to the iPod, and b) a fresh iPod out of the box needs to be charged up because out of the box they only have about 10 minutes of battery life on them...

So who buys an iPod from an airport vending machine?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Coyote v Acme...

Stumbled across the transcript of an opening statement the other day:

Tempe, Arizona

Judge Joan Kujava, Presiding

Plaintiff §
v. § CIVIL ACTION NO. B19294
Defendant §



By Mr. Schoff:

My client, Mr. Wile E. Coyote, a resident of Arizona and contiguous states, does hearby bring suit for damages against the Acme Company, manufacturer and retail distributor of assorted merchandise, incorporated in Delaware and doing business in every state, district, and territory. Mr. Coyote seeks compensation for personal injuries, loss of business income, and mental suffering caused as a direct result of the actions and/or gross negligence of said company, under Title 15 of the United States Code Chapter 47, section 2072, subsection (a), relating to product liability.

Mr. Coyote states that on eighty-five separate occasions, he has purchased of the Acme Company (hereinafter, 'Defendant'), through that company's mail order department, certain products which did cause him bodily injury due to defects in manufacture or improper cautionary labeling. Sales slips made out to Mr. Coyote as proof of purchase are at present in the possession of the Court, marked Exhibit A. Such injuries sustained by Mr. Coyote have temporarily restricted his ability to make a living in the profession of predator. Mr. Coyote is self-employed and thus not eligible for Workmen's Compensation.

Mr. Coyote states that on December 13th, he received of Defendant via parcel post one Acme Rocket Sled. The intention of Mr. Coyote was to use the Rocket sled to aid him in pursuit of his prey. Upon receipt of the Rocket Sled, Mr. Coyote removed it from its wooden shipping crate and sighting his prey in the distance, activated the ignition. As Mr. Coyote gripped the handlebars, the Rocket Sled accelerated with such sudden and precipitate force as to stretch Mr. Coyote's forelimbs to a length of fifteen feet. Subsequently, the rest of Mr. Coyote's body shot forward with a violent jolt, causing severe strain to his back and neck and placing him unexpectedly astride the Rocket Sled. Disappearing over the horizon at such speed as to leave a diminishing jet trail along its path, the Rocket Sled soon brought Mr. Coyote abreast of his prey. At that moment, the animal he was pursuing veered sharply to the right. Mr. Coyote vigorously attempted to follow this maneuver but was unable to, due to poor design and engineering on the Rocket Sled and a faulty or non-existent steering system. Shortly thereafter, the unchecked progress of the Rocket Sled led it and Mr. Coyote into collision with the side of a mesa.

Paragraph One of the Report of Attending Physician (Exhibit B), prepared by Dr. Ernst Grosscup, M.D., D.O., details the multiple fractures, contusions, and tissue damage suffered by Mr. Coyote as a result of this collision. Repair of the injuries required a full bandage around the head (excluding the ears), a neck brace, and full or partial casts on all four legs. Hampered by these injuries, Mr. Coyote was nevertheless obliged to support himself. With this in mind, he purchased of Defendant as an aid to mobility one pair of Acme Rocket Skates. When he attempted to use this product, however, he became involved in an accident remarkably similar to that which occurred with the Rocket Sled. Again, Defendant sold over the counter, without caveat, a product which attached powerful jet engines (in this case, two) to inadequate vehicles, with little or no provision for passenger safety. Encumbered by his heavy casts, Mr. Coyote lost control of the Rocket Skates soon after strapping them on, and collided with a roadside billboard so violently as to leave a hole in the shape of his full silhouette.

Mr. Coyote states that on occasions too numerous to list in this document he has suffered mishaps with explosives purchased of Defendant: the Acme 'Little Giant' Firecracker, the Acme Self-Guided Aerial Bomb, etc. (For a full listing see the Acme Mail Order Explosives Catalogue and attached deposition, entered in evidence as Exhibit C.) Indeed, it is safe to say that not once has an explosive purchased of Defendant by Mr. Coyote performed in an expected manner. To cite just one example: At the expense of much time and personal effort, Mr. Coyote constructed around the outer rim of a butte a wooden trough beginning at the top of the butte and spiraling downward around it to some few feet above a black X painted on the desert floor. The trough was designed in such a way that a spherical explosive of the type sold by Defendant would roll easily and swiftly down to the point of detonation indicated by the X. Mr. Coyote placed a generous pile of birdseed directly on the X, and then, carrying the spherical Acme Bomb (Catalogue #78) climbed to the top of the butte. Mr. Coyote's prey, seeing the birdseed, approached, and Mr. Coyote proceeded to light the fuse. In an instant, the fuse burned down to the stem, causing the bomb to detonate.

In addition to reducing all Mr. Coyote's careful preparations to naught, the premature detonation of Defendant's product resulted in the following disfigurements to Mr. Coyote:

1. Severe singeing of the hair on the head, neck, and muzzle.

2. Sooty discoloration.

3. Fracture of the left ear at the stem, causing the ear to dangle in the aftershock with a creaking noise.

4. Full or partial combustion of whiskers, producing kinking, frazzling, and ashy disintegration.

5. Radical widening of the eyes, due to brow and lid charring.

We come now to the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes. The remains of a pair of these purchased by Mr. Coyote on June 23rd are Plaintiff's Exhibit D. Selected fragments have been shipped to the metallurgical laboratories of the University of California at Santa Barbara for analysis, but to date, no explanation has been found for this product's sudden and extreme malfunction. As advertised by Defendant, this product is simplicity itself: two wood-and-metal sandals, each attached to milled-steel springs of high tensile strength and compressed in a tightly coiled position by a cocking device with a lanyard release. Mr. Coyote believed that this product would enable him to pounce upon his prey in the initial moments of the chase, when swift reflexes are at a premium.

To increase the shoes' thrusting power still further, Mr. Coyote affixed them by their bottoms to the side of a large boulder. Adjacent to the boulder was a path which Mr. Coyote's prey was known to frequent. Mr. Coyote put his hind feet in the wood-and-metal sandals and crouched in readiness, his right forepaw holding firmly to the lanyard release. Within a short time, Mr. Coyote's prey did indeed appear on the path coming toward him. Unsuspecting, the prey stopped near Mr. Coyote, well within range of the springs at full extension. Mr. Coyote gauged the distance with care and proceeded to pull the lanyard release. At this point, Defendant's product should have thrust Mr. Coyote forward and away from the boulder. Instead, for reasons yet unknown, the Acme Spring-Powered Shoes thrust the boulder away from Mr. Coyote. As the intended prey looked on unharmed, Mr. Coyote hung suspended in the air. Then the twin springs recoiled, bringing Mr. Coyote to a violent feet-first collision with the boulder, the full weight of his head and forequarters falling upon his lower extremities. The force of this impact then caused the springs to rebound, where upon Mr. Coyote was thrust skyward. A second recoil and collision followed. The boulder, meanwhile, which was roughly ovoid in shape, had begun to bounce down a hillside, the coiling and recoiling of the springs adding to its velocity. At each bounce, Mr. Coyote came into contact with the boulder, or the boulder came into contact with Mr. Coyote, or both came into contact with the ground. As the grade was a long one, this process continued for some time. The sequence of collisions resulted in systemic physical damage to Mr. Coyote, viz., flattening of the cranium, sideways displacement of the tongue, reduction of length of legs and upper body, and compression of vertebrae from base of tail to head. Repetition of blows along a vertical axis produced a series of regular horizontal folds in Mr. Coyote's body tissues, a rare and painful condition which caused Mr. Coyote to expand upward and contract downward alternately as he walked, and to emit an off-key, accordion-like wheezing with every step. The distracting and embarrassing nature of this symptom has been a major impediment to Mr. Coyote's pursuit of a normal social life.

As the court is no doubt aware, Defendant has a virtual monopoly of manufacture and the sale of goods required by Mr. Coyote's work. It is our contention that Defendant has used its market advantage to the detriment of the consumer of such specialized products as itching powder, giant kites, Burmese tiger traps, anvils, and two-hundred-foot-long rubber bands. Much as he has come to mistrust Defendant's products, Mr. Coyote has no other domestic source of supply to which to turn. One can only wonder what our trading partners in Western Europe and Japan would make of such a situation, where a giant company is allowed to victimize the consumer in the most reckless and wrongful manner over and over again. Mr. Coyote respectfully requests that the Court regard these larger economic implications and assess punitive damages in the amount of seventeen million dollars. In addition, Mr. Coyote seeks actual damages (missed meals, medical expenses, days lost from professional occupation) of one million dollars; general damages (mental suffering, injury to reputation) of twenty million dollars; and attorney's fees of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. By awarding Mr. Coyote the full amount, this Court will censure Defendant, its directors, officers, shareholders, successors, and assigns, in the only language they understand, and reaffirm the right of the individual predator to equal protection under the law."

Originally published in The New Yorker Magazine, 26 February 1990 written by Ian Frazier

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Your Printer is Talking to the Feds...

This story was actually in today's Washington Post, although I found out about it because it was on the front page (but beneath the fold) of the Press Democrat out of Santa Rosa CA.

If you didn't know it The US Treasury Department recently redesigned the $10 bill again ( One of the biggest motivations for all of the recent currency redesigns over the last several years has been because of the fantastic image quality of the average color scanner and color printer. A good quality color scanner and printer could be used to create a halfway decent counterfeit bill, and it's because of this that the latest versions of the bills in your wallet incorporate things like microprinting and security strips, both of which can't be properly duplicated with a color scanner or copier.

It seems however that the Feds have incorporated another security feature that nobody knew about until recently. The thing is this security feature isn't in the bills, it's in your very own color printer...

According to the Washington Post article, PC World magazine discovered that the printouts from many color laser printers had yellow dots scattered throughout the page, that could only be seen by using a special flashlight. The article even had comments from a senior Xerox researcher who said that these dots were actually a secret code that the Feds could use to track down criminals.

However, the code isn't so secret anymore, at least the ones coming out of Xerox printers. The Electronic Frontier Fondation has cracked the Xerox code, and while it hasn't cracked them, they say they have found similar codes on printers from every major manufacturer. The Xerox code contains the serial number of the printer as well as the date and time that the document was printed.

The Secret Service has confirmed that the markings are there, but say little more than a coutermeasure to protect against counterfiting.

ITunes Videos and 4G iPods

Well I decided to try buy a video on iTunes and see what would happen when I connected my 4G Color iPod.

The answer was.....

Wait for it.....

Absolutely NOTHING!

This wasn't a huge surprise to me, I had a feeling that it wouldn't work. But I'm only out a whole $1.99 and I still have the video on my computer that I can play whenever I'd like...

BTW the video I purchased was the Pixar video short "For The Birds," which I believe was also one of the extras on the second disk of the Monster's Inc DVD.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bizarre Tech Story of Last Week

I've been a bit busy, so I didn't get to write about this last week...

I first heard about this story on CNet's Buzz Out Loud podcast and found it written about on The Register, however the story appears to have actually been broken on the UK tabloid The Sun.

The sun says that Ian Pearson over at BT Laboratories has proposed breast implants with an MP3 player embedded in them...

Take a second and digest that one...

The concept is apparently to embed the electronics in the implant and output the audio wirelessly to headphones via bluetooth. The entire setup would be controlled using a bluetooth enabled control panel.

There's a whole lot of questions to be resolved of course... How would you power this whole thing? What about transferring songs, how is that accomplished? Better yet, will a large cup size result in an MP3 player with a larger capacity?