This YouTube video is of a fellow who modified his Nintendo Wii remote for use as a head tracking unit that interfaces with his own software. Pretty freaking clever if you ask me. He uses it for a desktop VR display. Don't know what that is? Neither did I until I saw the video. He explains it very well and his examples are fun to watch. Here's a hint: it's not that helmet-y thing from Lawnmower Man.

(Credit goes to Apple Geeks for forwarding me to the video.)


Ogden Nash Inspiration

My bumper goes ka-crunch
My grandfather's went ka-clunk
When it gently impacts
Someone else's trunk.

Silver bells, silver bells,
Its broken glass on the pavement.

Automobile accidents
Much like political precedents
Make everyone feel blameless


Annotate This

Amazon.com's new Kindle e-book reader has seemingly revived interest in a technology long thought dead since the 1990s. Long live zombie tech! Everyone's excited because... well, because it's Amazon. That's not really a very good reason. Even Amazon themselves are excited so much so that they've set up their DNS servers to redirect kindle.amazon.com directly to their products page. Might be a bit of the old mod_rewrite action going on too.

An e-book's selling point is the ability to read text anywhere. But with the advent of the Internet that isn't so fancy. What killed the older editions of e-book readers was that they were based on LCD screen technology, which is really no easier on the eyes than any other display. The difference with the new readers is a technology call e-ink (catchy e-names straight out of the 90s also) that gives you resolutions on par with printed text so its easier on the eyes. So now text is portable and not painful to try and read. I argue that even this is not enough.

I personally find myself sketching out ideas on paper still. There's something about the free form nature of an open page that I need in order to express my thoughts. So my ideal e-book reader could double as a writing table. Additional features start to jump out. You could annotate your book with notes. Share annotations with other people (i.e. RSS feeds). E-book editions could justify their purchase by including annotations from various authors too! It'd also be handy if the screen didn't catch glares quite so easily...

The Kindle has numerous drawbacks. There is no native PDF display, which is key to people like me who have an armload of academic papers to carry around. Any reader of mine needs to be able to display the most common native file formats like PDF, (X)HTML, XML, etc. I'm not going to push for proprietary formats like Microsoft Word. There's also currently no scheme for people to share their books. Which leads me to my next point...

Digital Rights Mangement! DRM! Those three dread words. Now, I'm not against DRM as a matter of principle. Commercial publishers probably need a way to combat the pirating of their works, but the technology out to be more open. Buying a specific hardware platform ought not lock you into that maker's DRM scheme. Furthermore, platforms need to support multiple forms of DRM, and also support all non-DRM formats. A real advantage would be implementing a sharing feature. Party A could share a book with party B via a central server. A's copy is locked down while B's is active, and then its reversed when the loan is over. Of course, there would need to be some mechanism in place for when the unlocked copy is lost.

But there are alternatives out to the Kindle! Specifically the Sony Reader Digital Book and the iLiad by iRex (ignore the iStupid naming). I'm enthralled with the iLiad because it has the features I really want like free hand writing support plus its screen is the biggest yet. But I've noticed in this YouTube video that the speed of the iLiad's screen versus that of Sony's is painfully slow. Plus that whole-screen flicker every time you switch could get more annoying than trying to read from a computer monitor. No one champion in my book.

So it looks like I'm left wanting yet again. Maybe if the technology survives this time it'll advance enough in the next couple years that it meets my higher standards of quality. In the mean time I'm forced to pick and choose which books I'm dragging along for the holiday trips.


Problems in Social Science

There seems to be a fundamental problem in social science today in America. The problems seem to stem from a strong groupthink. Social science areas of academia within the United States have an overwhelmingly liberal political stance that is hurting them in two distinct ways.

The first way is that it causes the general public not to take them seriously. This is because the political bias that social science has taken on deviates so many sigmas from the median that it doesn't represent a significant portion of the American public's views. That's not to say that social scientists need to adjust to public perceptions. But because of this disparity the public does not take social science seriously (as they ought), and mostly students who are already of the same political thought join, further reinforcing the groupthink.

Second, the social scientists are causing their own stagnation of ideas. Advancement of a science comes through discourse, and as such discourse requires opposing points of view. Those will become increasingly hard to find if the entire field only allows the propagation of ideas it deems acceptable. The irony is that this is something that is fashionable to criticize when it takes place outside of the social science sphere such as in areas like religion.

I'd like to think that this is a call to action. Or at least a catalyst for serious discussion. But this being the Internet I'm anticipating insults and libel.


Marty McWha?

Thought provocation time. Remember the scene in Back to the Future when Marty is jamming on the guitar in the 1952 prom? The injured guitar player is yelling into the phone to a fellow named Charles, and identifies himself as a cousin with the last name of Berry. So weren't meant to believe that notable rock guitarist Chuck Berry got his influence from future shredder Marty.

The problem is that the song Marty is playing, Johnny B. Goode, was popularized by Chuck Berry himself. So what we end up with is a circular reference. How could Chuck Berry influence himself? It's almost like Phillip J. Fry being his own grandfather! That's today's gaping plot hole in a Hollywood movie for you.


Transformer Class Warfare

I just got done watching that new Transformers movie. Well if that isn't the stereotypical Hollywood action movie that I was expecting it to be. Or, at least that's what I thought. Upon deeper inspection I realized that it was all just an allegory for class warfare! Yes, Karl Marx lives on in the form of a semi-truck tractor with a flame job!

You see, the movie's taught me that we're all being lied to. It's not the Decepticons that are our enemies, its those Autobots! The Decepticons represent the angry proletariat, rising up against their bourgeois oppressors, the Autobots. But the rabbit hole goes deeper! The classes are fighting over the Allspark, or in other words, the means of production.

I know, I know. In the movie the Decepticons are bad and try to kill humans while the Autobots protect humans. But its all propaganda I tell you! The movie was made to portray our rich oppressors as protectors who only have our best interests in mind. All lies! For Megatron!


No Mas Libros para Tu

I'm done posting book reviews in the blog area. The fact of the matter is that I've been turned on to a site call Good Reads. It offers a formal mechanism for rating and reviewing titles. An added bonus is that they also have a Facebook plug-in. For those not in the know, I'm a big proponent of consolidating social networking services. Back in the day I had CollegeClub, Friendster, and Orkut. They all basically did the same thing but because my friends were scattered across these sites I had to be on all of them as well. Ignore the fact that we were all attention spans like a gnat and gladly jumped on whatever new service came out. But now this ability to add new functionality within a framework is something I can get behind.


Technology BS Ahoy!

I was doing some self-study on the topics of SOAP and SSL today and came across this little gem of information. What really caught my eye is a sentence from the last paragraph that reads, "...since HTTP is stateless and entirely unreliable..." Wait, what? Hold up there, hoss. HTTP runs atop TCP, which is both stateful and reliable. So how does a protocol running on a reliable layer magically become unreliable? In all the computer science I've studied it can't. Maybe this fellow found a magical new field of study. The lesson is: beware the Internet my friends. This is crap out there.


If Nicholas Cage Could Act

While listening to National Public Radio a few months back I heard about an interesting book called Merchant of Death by these two journalists. It chronicles the rise of a business empire owned by a Russian named Victor Bout. Bout is about as close to a real-life Lord of War (awkwardly played by Nicholas Cage) as you'll ever get. His myriad of companies specialize in air cargo, but somehow his planes always seem to be carrying some kind of weapons to parts of the world where people are eagerly killing one another (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, Congo, Afghanistan, etc.).

The book itself is incredibly illuminating. The reporting is about as objective as I've ever read and chronicles in minute detail the inner workings of this gun running enterprise. It's frightening to think of how all this went on under the noses of the Western world while they were all busy patting themselves on the back for the fall of the Evil Empire.

Now, I can't give a complete review of the book at this time because I didn't quite finish it. My biggest complaint so far is that the book is as dry as the Mojave and as clinical as a prostate exam. The feel is of a series of newspaper articles glued together to make a book, which makes sense since the week after I got the book from the library I read another article on Bout in the Washington Post as written by one of the authors. I think it's because of these factors that I couldn't finish the book before it was due back at the liberry. Fear not! For I have re-reserved the book and as soon as the other five people before me are finished with it then I too shall finish it!


Renn Fest

I spent an afternoon this past weekend at what is known as a "renaissance festival". Or you can call it the "renn fest" if you're as cool as Ol' Blue Eyes. However, no one there was remotely cool enough.

I've never understood the obsession with the renaissance period. European culture was just beginning to crawl out of the gutters of medieval times. Basic hygiene and sanitation were still just theories. Well, I guess they got that part right. Everyone focuses on things like adding pointless "e"s at the end of words and the clothes. And the clothes! Dear night take me now... There's a reason men don't wear cod pieces anymore. And my highly scientific research reports that 99% of the women there shouldn't go with the bustier look. It's much like squeezing a tube of toothpaste from the middle. Oh how I hate that too...

Goode nyght, and goode lucke.


Big Box Fun

Last week I sat in on a presentation by a Wal-Mart representative about the proposed expansion of our neighborhood store. They're working on upping the floor area by about 50,000 square feet. If I had to summarize the experience I'd do so as: unequal expectations.

The Wal-Mart rep obviously came expecting a free feedback group because she brought all kinds of glossy artist renderings of the expansion. The theme was all about some prototype new facade that this store would have first, increased light in the store, and trying to keep shoppers longer.

The expectations of the neighborhood residents was about either improving the existing situation and/or preventing the expansion from happening. When the rep was asked pointedly about the possibility of blocking the expansion she did gave corporate answers about owning the property, etc. Long story short: it's a done deal, and that didn't make some people very happy.

I will say that people weren't shy about asking tough questions about things like the poor condition of the store and the dangerous traffic. She quickly got defensive and threw out useful links like the (completely unbiased) Wal-MartFacts.com. After a while she even started admitting that the store manager hadn't been doing his job, and assured everyone that the situation was being addressed. However, this didn't consist of the manager being fired.

A final note: apparently the Mid-Atlantic region is being condensed in terms of Wal-Mart regional responsibilities. My interpretation is that fewer people are getting more work. So I don't really have high hopes for the situation.


But is it Supercharged?

Check out this video on Wired.com of a new, methane-powered rocket. It looks and sounds really tightly tuned. It's like the engines on the old Saturn V's were the small block V8s of the 70s and this new engine is an Italian V10 ready for the new millenium. Did I forget to make a low-brow joke about it running on methane? Farts. There you go.

And to coincide with this new development NASA is hiring a bunch of new astronauts! Seriously! You can go and apply for yourself. They'll even supply you with all the diapers your crazy self desires!

Personally, I can remember getting jazzed about the Delta Clipper way back in the early nineties. Too bad that blew up. And now we've got all these private companies making serious headway. Scaled Composites already won the Ansari X-Prize for getting into space. Nothing orbital yet though. There's also Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, and SpaceX to name a few more. Note: pretty much all of these companies are founded by really wealthy nerds with nothing better to do.


The Misunderstood Death of Adventure Games

Adventure games were most video gamers' first exposures into the world of PC games, ignoring the arcade genre. Classics of the adventure genre shared features like side-rendered 2D graphics and test parsing interfaces.

But adventure games are almost completely gone now from store shelves. Editorials blame the death of the adventure game on the first person shooter (FPS). Among game purists there's a knee jerk reaction to blame the twitchy game blame of FPS for the down fall of adventure games. I think it's a little more complicated than that.

FPS's require a certain base level of technological development. Your CPU has to be fast enough and you memory large enough to really provide for the kind of environment that FPS's demand. Do you think that Wolfenstein would've worked well on the Atari 2600? Please.

Once the hardware was available it opened up this entire new genre, a genre that appealed to a much broader range of players. This is probably because the logical (and sometimes illogical) nature of adventure games presented a barrier to the casual player. FPS's, with their simple interfaces and play rules, provided a much lower barrier of entry to many new gamers. Unfortunately, game companies adhered to macro-economic principles and began producing mostly FPS games to maximize their revenue. And thus, the adventure game slipped away to be replaced by the FPS.

So who's to blame? Your own computer for one. Adam Smith for another. But the actual FPS players, even if they do come across as vapid and brain dead, don't deserve your scorn. Besides, if they really are as stupid as you think they are, why not just avoid them altogether?

And now I'll leave you with a list of great adventure games:


Under the Bleachers by Seymore Butts

I just finished a book that was recommended to me called Under and Alone by a fellow named William Queen. Billy was an ATF agent that infiltrated the Mongols motorcycle gang and took down quite a few people.

The story itself is quite good: true to life tale of a good guy giving it his all to protect the rest of us from the worst of the worst. It's got all the elements of a Hollywood action movie right down to the conflicted hero.

This book does suffer from some problems though. The underlying problem is that I get the feeling that the book was ghost written. It just sounds like someone typing up a series of incidents that another person is relating. The chapters are somewhat disjoint and lacking cohesion, and it lacks the final emotional oomph that only the person who lived it could give it.

Overall I'd rate this book as four out of five sprockets.