Archive for March, 2008

27
Mar
08

I’ve decided…

I wish that the zero key on keyboards were to the left of the 1 key rather than to the right of the 9.

24
Mar
08

A new hobby

Well, this isn’t exactly a hobby, but it’s something I’ve done a few times and I think it’s fun, so it’s kind of like a hobby. Anyway, you may or may not know that I read a couple of gadget-related sites with reasonable regularity. In particular, I read engadget and gizmodo most days and there are some other sites I keep up with on a less frequent basis. In any case, these sites often cover new GPS systems for cars (now often called PNDs (personal navigation devices)). Usually, the image of the devices shows a map of some place on the device’s screen. There is usually no city label – just roads and landmarks. So, my new hobby has become finding where the map is from.

Today engadget covered a new PND from Mio and the map shown on the device had roads named “Turkey Shore Rd.”, “Prince of Wales Rd.”, “Ffordd Tudur” and “Porth-y-Felin Rd.” In addition, a harbor was depicted along with a ferry route. “Prince of Wales Rd.” made me think that it was likely in the UK, but not necessarily in Wales. The harbor and ferry route obviously put it on the coast somewhere. “Ffordd Tudur” and “Porth-y-Felin Rd.” made me think it was, in fact, in Wales, because Welsh is just a funny-looking language with lots of repeated consonants. So, I searched the coast of Wales and found it.

A random small town on the coast of Wales seems like a strange place to choose for a marketing photo for a new GPS device, but I suppose they have to pick somewhere. I also recall finding a place in the center of Berlin that was in a picture of a GPS device. Anyway, maybe the fact that I enjoy this makes me a huge nerd, but I enjoy the challenge of it and it helps to improve not only my geographical knowledge, but it also brings a little extra familiarity with local languages.

Looking at the original image again, I noticed that the name of the city is somewhat visible.  Even if I had noticed it when I first looked at the picture, I wouldn’t have simply searched for “Holyhead”.  It’s much more interesting to use clues to find it.  Obviously, though, this only works if the city name is either not visible, or it is unknown to you.  Though, if the city name is visible and you know where it is, it’s still entertaining to track down exactly where in a city the map is from.

15
Mar
08

Lens reviews on dpreview.com

If you’re looking for in-depth, detailed reviews of cameras, dpreview.com has been pretty much the best resource around for quite a while. Their focus has always been on higher end cameras, particularly DSLRs, so they don’t review every point-and-shoot that comes out, but the cameras they do review are given very thorough coverage. While they offer a lot of useful information on cameras, it used to be the case that their information became less useful once you had bought a camera and were looking to expand your lens selection. However, they’ve changed that. They just started doing lens reviews and they intend to expand this section of the site rapidly in the next few months. This could be a really helpful resource, since lenses are expensive and you want to make sure you’re spending your money well. Right now, they have reviews for two lenses each from Sony, Nikon, Canon, and Pentax, including the most common kit lens for each. Check it out: http://www.dpreview.com/lensreviews/

I’ve looked at a few of the reviews and they have a really sweet interactive display for exploring the sharpness (MTF) and chromatic aberration of the lens as a function of focal length and aperture.  If you’re a photography enthusiast you should really check it out.

10
Mar
08

The economy and word choice in the news

I am not a big fan of the news. The news is a business and every business tries to convince you that you need its product. The news does this by making you scared of the world you live in and then positioning itself as the agency that is looking out for you or the source of information you need in order to not get burned. It also adds drama to otherwise bland news stories by overstating the significance of a story or using dramatic words even when they aren’t merited. On-going news stories are the bread and butter of news outlets so they strive to ensure that they’ve got your attention by over-dramatizing the story every day. One on-going news story that I’ve recently noticed conforms to the above pattern is the economy.

News outlets have been reporting about the weak dollar. Let’s be clear – it is weak. However, a report I saw on Google News recently announced that the “dollar plummets”. If by “plummet” they mean “continues to weaken at a not-unexpected pace”, then that’s fine. However, that is not how most people understand “plummet”. In addition, I heard an ad for the 11pm news on TV last night announcing that food prices were “skyrocketing”. I’m pretty sure that food prices are not going up enough to match my understanding of the word “skyrocketing”.

Maybe you think I’m getting overly semantic. I’m not. This is important. One of the key reports that influences Wall Street is the Consumer Confidence Index. When consumer confidence goes down, it usually causes stocks to lose value on Wall Street and it can play a role in Federal Reserve Board decisions on interest rates. Where do you think that consumers get their sense of confidence in the economy? If you said “the news”, you’re right. Obviously, it’s not the only source, but it’s certainly an important source. So, when people are surveyed about their confidence in the economy, do you think phrases they’ve heard like “dollar plummets” and “food prices skyrocket” will influence their sense of confidence in the economy? Of course they will.

So, in the interest of making a little extra money themselves, news outlets are endangering the entire economy by exaggerating the severity of its struggles.  I’m sure you agree that this type of behavior cannot be condoned, but it’s not clear what should be done about it.  If you have ideas about how we can encourage journalists to be responsible in their reporting and not exaggerate news stories for their own gain, please submit your ideas in the comments.

09
Mar
08

Web 2.0

I just set up an account on twitter.  Does anyone else use it?  Does anyone use pownce?  Any thoughts on how they compare?

I still don’t have an account on Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn.  This is my way of sticking it to the Web 2.0 “man” and I like it.

04
Mar
08

Remembered tastes

A day or two ago and again just about a minute ago, for some reason a flavor that I haven’t tasted in many years came back into my mind. Orange Juice from a can – not frozen OJ, but the kind of OJ you get in little steel cans with a metallized plastic membrane over the opening that you peel off before drinking. The cans look like this. Does this ring a bell to anyone? I think they used to serve these on airplanes a lot, but you could buy them in the grocery store, too. I hadn’t seen these in stores for a long time, but while searching for a picture of the cans, I found that these are still sold. Anyway, I never really liked the way this OJ tasted and I haven’t had it in probably a decade or more, but for some reason I was reminded of it this week. Weird.

01
Mar
08

I’ve still got it, part 2

This is a follow-up to a post from July 8th of last year. In that post, I documented how I had downloaded Super Mario Bros. (SMB) for the Wii Virtual Console and then proceeded to beat it in a little over an hour. Well, sometime within the last 2 weeks I downloaded SMB 2 (not the real/Japanese version of SMB 2) and on Tuesday I beat the game in almost exactly 2 hours without using any of the warp zones. I mentioned in my post about the original SMB that I was suprised by how many little tricks and things I remembered given that I probably hadn’t played the game in 10 years or more. The same was true for SMB 2 – I remembered the locations of a lot of the power-up mushrooms (many of which are not near the potion) and some other tricks.

In any case, this leaves SMB 3 as the only remaining SMB game from the original Nintendo that I haven’t beaten on the Virtual Console. I had a crazy idea this morning – I should try to beat all the NES-era SMB games back-to-back-to-back in one sitting and see how long it takes me. I think that SMB 3 would take a lot longer than the other two. It took me about an hour to beat SMB 1, 2 hours to beat SMB 2, but I’m guessing that it would take me more than 3 hours to beat SMB 3. I guess it would depend on whether I tried to beat every level or if I skipped ones that weren’t necessary to get to the castle in each world. We’ll see. This idea may have to wait for a while, since this type of project would definitely not help me to get my thesis written.




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