Wednesday, July 30, 2008

AssaultWall

From Drudge link:
China will censor the Internet used by foreign media during the Olympics, an organising committee official confirmed Wednesday, reversing a pledge to offer complete media freedom at the games.
This reminds of something John McCain said about the commie Vietnamese who would make you an open ended promise but then renege at the last moment in order to ensure that you would/could do nothing about it.

However, since the Chinese are being extra diligent about blocking traffic, maybe they could find it in their abilities to block all the friggin' port scans and attacks coming from that hole they call a country. Check this out:

For reasons I won't get into (because they're boring), this chart greatly understates the issue, but the trend is clear.

*Herndon, VA is where AOL/Time Warner/Road Runner are out of. For whatever reason (probably incompetence), they're the largest transgressor when it comes to port scans among the large American ISPs; at least for me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Eel Pop

I must admit that I haven't been keeping up with my Japan wire as religiously as I could. Part of it is the fact that the system I was using for that purpose died, but the other reason is that I didn't think I would come by anything all that interesting. Sure there's the stabbing epidemic going on over there, but that's just further proof that the world is mad.

However as usual I was wrong, with the story about a new beverage, eel pop:
"It's mainly for men who are exhausted by the summer's heat," Hayashi said of the beverage, believed to be the first mass-produced eel drink in Japan.
How 'exhausted' do you have to be for that to taste good? But, I guess a night of smoking and pachinko would wear down the best of us.
Demand for eel is so high that Japan has been hit by scores of eel fraud cases, including a recent high-profile incident in which a government ministry publicly scolded two companies for mislabeling eel imported from China as being domestically grown.
One would think they wouldn't be so choosey about where their glorified worms came from.



I know this doesn't top that Japanese snake liquor, pictures of which I know are floating around on the net somewhere. Just the thought of that stuff existing makes me nauseous.

Monday, July 28, 2008

More Vista

If anyone cares, which they don't, Microsoft is sending good money after bad in a $300 million dollar marketing relaunch of Vista. Not content to figure out why even a monopoly cannot sell this thing, or why they have to redo a huge marketing campaign for something that is supposedly such a success; they're plowing ahead anyway:
For quite a while now, we've heard Microsoft claim that when it unleashes its barrage of advertising, Apple and the rest of the software industry will be put on notice.

"You thought the sleeping giant was still sleeping?" Microsoft's VP of Windows Vista consumer marketing said recently. "Well, we've woken up, and it's time to take our message forward."

And it looks like the company has done just that. In what will surely prove to be just the first salvo in an ongoing marketing struggle with Apple that could bulge to an astounding $300 million investment, Microsoft has unleashed an ad campaign saying we all need to learn the facts about Vista.
I recently had to do a bit of work to my boss's new personal system, and here is the only Vista fact you need to know: it's pain in the ass to use. I don't rule out the possibility that Vista may be just peachy for the end user who doesn't care about the computer itself*; but for the poor technician that has to work on Microsoft's latest OS, it's a grief buffet. Whether it was setting up my bosses Blackberry or Hyper-V on Server 2008, Microsoft's latest OS tries to frustrate at every step of the way.

C'mon Microsoft, hasn't anyone told you that there's a direct trade-off between usability and security?


*Remember Windows 98? That was a pretty good OS for consumers, and NT 4 that was put out about the same time for businesses was pretty good too. Somewhere along the way techs, such as myself, convinced MS that they should have one Windows code base: the business code base. Like a bunch of followers MS slapped a slick GUI on top of NT 5 (a.k.a. Windows 2000) and put out Windows XP. Windows XP itself is a good OS, but in hindsight this was dumb luck; Vista proves that business and consumer OSes at Microsoft should exist in two entirely different realms.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ohio Unemployment

Providing unemployment benefits is simliar to providing healthcare benefits: those that need them the most can't afford it. The fix for unemployment has been to spread this 'misery insurance' across all industries and employees. It's a conumdrum to me; should unemployment be privitized? Like health insurance, private insurers would make you pay according to how likely you would be to use it, and since I work for an American manufacturing firm that is partly dependent on the automotive business, it's quite likely that the rates would outweigh the benefit.

But what about the alternative, single payer unemployment? Let's take a look at the other side of our 'bad' and 'worse' choices:
The [Ohio unemployment] fund could run dry early next year, potentially forcing the state to squeeze more tax revenue from businesses and to freeze benefits for laid-off workers, officials say.
Unlike healthcare, government sponsored unemployment insurance exacerbates the situation that it's seeking to treat:
When the fund sank below $2.2 billion in 2001, a series of automatic tax increases kicked in.
...
Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, the AFL-CIO's special assistant for policy and legislation, proposed a one-year fix -- raising the taxable wage base to $11,000, from $9,000; freezing the maximum benefits paid to the unemployed; and levying a 0.07 percent surcharge on Ohio businesses.
Increasing taxes, especially in a state taxed to the hilt to begin with, will hardly do much for creating jobs.
"The long and short of it is, if we had 150,000 more jobs, we wouldn't have the problem," Doehrel said.
It's always the little things isn't it?

It's worth pointing out that this mess has come about in a program that provides $300 a week in benefits to the unemployed, which is much, much better than nothing, but hardly get-rich money. I've seen pitches for private unemployment insurance, mostly having to do with loan specific* unemployment insurance, but every time I've looked into it, it's been real pricey and I've waved it off. Why bother if the government has me covered?


*My favorite was the outrageously priced home loan unemployment insurance that didn't even cover the loan while I would be unemployed, just the interest on the missed payments that would be punted to the end of the loan. The scam was obviously a gravy train for the home loan company who would at most have to take money out of one pocket and put it the other while the insuree got nothing substantial in return.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hunger as Motivation

Kevin Myers writes in his article Africa is giving nothing to anyone -- apart from AIDS:
Even as we see African states refusing to take action to restore something resembling civilisation in Zimbabwe, the begging bowl for Ethiopia is being passed around to us, yet again. It is nearly 25 years since Ethiopia's (and Bob Geldof's) famous Feed The World campaign, and in that time Ethiopia's population has grown from 33.5 million to 78 million today.

So why on earth should I do anything to encourage further catastrophic demographic growth in that country? Where is the logic? There is none. To be sure, there are two things saying that logic doesn't count.

One is my conscience, and the other is the picture, yet again, of another wide-eyed child, yet again, gazing, yet again, at the camera, which yet again, captures the tragedy of . . .

Sorry. My conscience has toured this territory on foot and financially. Unlike most of you, I have been to Ethiopia; like most of you, I have stumped up the loot to charities to stop starvation there. The wide-eyed boy-child we saved, 20 years or so ago, is now a priapic, Kalashnikov-bearing hearty, siring children whenever the whim takes him.
It is interesting that no one seems to be able to learn a lesson on that whole lousy continent. The West doesn't help by sending over countless oodles of aid that props up bad governments and worse societal institutions. The aid may assuage the guilt associated with manipulative photographs, but it also prevents nature from running it's course in these places and allowing a better long term life for the survivors to take hold.

On the other side (of the ocean) is this NPR story on food struggles in Ohio:
Nunez, 40, has never worked and has no high school degree. She says a car accident 17 years ago left her depressed and disabled, incapable of getting a job. Instead, she and her daughter, Angelica Hernandez, survive on a $637 Social Security check and $102 in food stamps.
....
People tell Nunez her daughter could get more money in public assistance if she had a child.
....
The rising cost of food means their money gets them about a third fewer bags of groceries — $100 used to buy about 12 bags of groceries, but now it's more like seven or eight. So they cut back on expensive items like meat, and they don't buy extras like ice cream anymore.
This, my dear readers, is the picture from the story that details the horror of starvation in America:

Could someone please explain to me why the government encourages those worst off to have children that they cannot afford?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Salt and Pepper

Local super cop Jim Simone bagged his fifth scumbag this past week to lauds and criticisms from the usual corners. Let's see if you can guess the races of the following two columnists who have generated much noise!

Quote from column 1:
That's not what we get with Simone. He's a career police officer, who's reportedly always wanted to be in the middle of the action. He's wanted to protect. He's someone who has consistently evidenced a willingness to die serving a dying city.

So now this is the thanks he gets for stopping a resistant bank robber. He is denigrated as a serial murderer and a bully. It would seem a bit more fitting, however, that we recognize his valor and thank him for his proven willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice.


Quote from column 2:
Cleveland police officer Jim Simone has an alarming record of killing people.

If anyone else gunned down five people, we'd call him a serial killer.


You would be absolutely right if you guessed that the first is written by a well grounded black guy who is sick of the crime and victimhood plaguing the black community and that the second is written by a white, self-righteous woman who is an adherent of liberal group-think that preaches to rubbing yourself with spices to make yourself tastier for the evil doers of the planet. One more quote from #2:
They don't hand out death sentences. That's not their job.
Well dammit, it should be someone's job and Officer Simone seems do be doing a fine job of it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PC Poisoning

It's not bad enough that feminists have gifted us with incompetent fire fighters and policemen...women...whatever; but now they're attacking the last bastion of American excellent, hard science*:
The problem is... it is not merely that women face discrimination from male colleagues, though that is often true, or that they are discouraged from pursuing these fields [whatever]. Rather, women with aptitude in these areas often simply have other interests and so pursue their education and careers in other fields like law, education, or biology.
Whoa, men and women are different? Could it be that even the tech idiots over at Slashdot who have long since grown high on San Francisco PC fumes, have realized that women might not want to do the same things as men? My head spins at the possibility.

Unfortunately hard facts never get in the way of the true idiots pushing this: Congress. I can't stress this enough, but this spells doom for Americas elite universities (which doesn't really concern me much) and troubles for our long term competitiveness (which apparently doesn't concern many other people besides me).


*Hard science as opposed to PC BS like 'black' or 'women' studies which are a sight better than 'GLBS' studies or absolute bilge like that. Please know that if you're involved in a program like that, you are a giant tick on America's ass. I have way more respect for even the worst welfare abuser since they at least have to show up for a real job every now and then. I recall my university buddy at one point making a half-hearted attempt to justify these to me, it was like someone trying to explain why their dad is in prison.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Red, White, and Beer

With Miller brewing/Coors having been bought by South Africans a couple years ago, Budweiser (aka Anheuser-Busch) was able to stake a claim as the great American beer. This was a big reason for my switch to Bud from Miller at the time. Sadly though, I'm now looking for the last big American beer now that a Belgian company has bought out Anheuser-Busch. Maybe the near undrinkable Sam Adams? Sam Adams Light is tolerable, but boy I don't want to pay $1.25 a friggin' beer. A coworker suggested that I switch to strictly drinking Makers Mark bourbon which would be a pricey option (that, and, it appears that the brand is at least partially own by the French).

Then there's a local brewer who suffers under the same impression of all micro brews: that Americans like beer that tastes like ass.

I don't know, maybe I'll switch to wine; but no matter what you do to it, wine isn't a very good sports beverage.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow

I guess only the good do die young....

Although the U.S. press has been sure to put in a jab or two for his conservatism, one of his appealing aspects was the fact that he admitted to being a socialist of sorts at one point before joining the peace corp and seeing first hand what a wonder socialism had made of Africa.

The obit I had read made mention that he grew up in the Cincinnati area, which if I ever knew, I had forgotten.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Argentina Watch

Don't think it can't happen here because our govenment is all over it. When I saw Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the news I knew it had to be bad:
The U.S. government is considering taking over Fannie Mae (FNM.N) and Freddie Mac (FRE.N) if their funding problems worsen, the New York Times said on Friday, causing shares of the mortgage finance companies to plunge.
...
This would mean the shares would be worth little or nothing, and the losses on home loans they own or guarantee -- half of all U.S. mortgages -- would be paid by taxpayers.
I'm of a mind that these things should die a quick, painful death. Their very existence is an abomination that the economy will constantly worry will do it in. In the I.T. world this would be a giant, critical, single point of failure application which can not fail, but is running on an ENIAC server:
The Bush administration had considered calling for legislation to give an explicit government guarantee on the $5 trillion of debt owned or guaranteed by the companies, the Times said. That was seen as a less attractive option because it would effectively double the size of the national debt.
FIVE TRILLION?!?!? There's very little that isn't more 'attractive' than that.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dynasty Warriors 6



Being a fan of the series I snatched this one up once I found it used at a local Gamestop (even I can't bring myself to pay the new price for a Warriors game). It had received favorable reviews, which is unusual for a Warriors game, so I figured it must really be rockin' since I loved the other entries which were panned by critics.

However, as it is with other entertainment mediums, so it is with video games: critical love doesn't equal a better product. Koei diligently listened to the past criticisms and redid much of what worked in the franchise. Gone are the heavily customizable weapons and characters. The special character tasks of the past which were used to obtain these customizations are gone in favor of map specific tasks of uneven quality and little in-game benefit.

Also trashed is the excellent move-set system that added some depth to the combat. Although it could be done in previous installments, the latest version actively encourages players to run around the map and press square, A LOT. When doing this, a gauge would charge up that allowed me to occasionally use the triangle button as well, but this could be more trouble than it's worth depending on the character being used.

Another item that grates me is that it's more difficult to level up characters. In previous installments, the first characters you use in the story mode would have nothing, making survival an ongoing issue until enough power-up items are found to make the character stronger. In turn, subsequent low level characters could use the same items, which shortens the grind level for the back half of the game. Apparently in a bid to pad the playing time, possibly because so many characters were removed from the game, Koei took that ability out.

Not that there weren't mediocre characters worth removing from the previous games, but taken as a whole it seems like the character removal had more to do with a restrictive development schedule rather than some justified desire to tighten the ranks in order to improve the remaining characters. Another character related knock against the game is that many of the voice actors were dumped and cheaper actors found. The game is devoid of some ham-fisted favorites of the past ("On the chopping block!", or a character who wears bells who says something like "when you here the bells, you better answer the call!"). This light level of humor provided some padding to what are rather repetitive stories.

Okay, so they took a lot out, they must have put something in, right? Well, the game does look gorgeous. Gone are the pre-rendered videos and everything is handled in-engine, making the game a bit less disjointed. Maps are huge and lushly rendered (which in and of itself is a bit of a detraction since overly large maps don't seem to be as tightly focused). Players can now climb towers and what not, but since they took the bow out of the game there's really no reason to do so. In what is probably the strongest gameplay improvement, the method for taking 'capture points' finally makes sense and is an interesting challenge to boot.

And then there's...well...nothing else, there just isn't all that much in this installment. Part of my disappointment was my expectation that the with all the computing power in the newer consoles, that the developer would be free to take the series in slightly different, open ended direction. Instead of something different though, this game seems to be a throwback to Dynasty Warriors '3.5'*. Another layer of frustration set in when I had occasional glitches with the sound in the game and a few lock-ups while saving. Needless to say, if you're a fan of the series I'd suggest holding out for 7.

*I think it needs to be said that while this game is compartively weak, it proves the point that even bad next-gen titles are still pretty darn good.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Different Dimension

Is there a cheaper, crappier PC than the Dell Dimension? Is that why they scrapped the name in favor of 'Inspiron'? This was a name that was formally reserved for the worlds cheapest, crappiest laptops.

$300 for a desktop? It's tempting, until I crack the case on one and discover that someone has found a way to make already cheap components even cheaper. I shook my head in disbelief when the one I recently worked on was not only extra stingy with the power connectors, but also had them trimmed to the centimeter required for connecting to the (crappy) components inside. It looks good on paper until some poor sap, such as myself, has to disconnect something.

Historically, Dell's Optiplex line has had better configurations, but they're so cheap now that I tend to doubt it. That, and they've also been even more prone to proprietary configurations which leave you at the mercy of Dell for all service parts.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

Happy belated July 4th, from Obama!

Sorry, I would have posted this sooner, but I decided that I would rather fill my face and play video games than do blog posts over the holiday!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

WALL-E




The Pixar movies are my one respite from awful cinema and a reassurance that all the talented people haven't been sopped up by the video game industry. When going to see a Pixar film, I know I'll see a movie that's had a lot of work put into it to make it look good, be uplifting, and be entertaining. Despite what the naysayers are spouting, WALL-E fits the bill.

I know from previous interviews and such that the folks at Pixar don't like their work to be pigeon-holed and they like doing things differently than they had done in their previous efforts. What they sought to make here was something they hadn't done before, a love story, of sorts. The art direction as usual is amazing while the story...

There's something very, for lack of a better description, Japanese about the whole thing. A dystopian future with complicated mechanical robots which are probably sentient, all wrapped up in a product that looks amazing? Sounds like half the anime ever produced. I remember one anime in particular that mentioned that they had a mechanical engineering type on-site who would eyeball sketches and such and let the artist know whether or not the pieces fit together properly. You can easily picture Pixar going through such lengths while watching WALL-E, while other western animators would never go through the effort. A great example is that other robot themed movie which could have just as easily been about monkeys. It's against this background that I'm judging the film and I bring it up mearly to point out that I tend to be forgiving of work of this sort.

Part of the back story for the film is a planet brought to ruin by corporate malfeasance. Although some conservative writers have taken issue with this, it's worth mentioning that mega corporations aren't exactly a mirror image of the one portrayed in WALL-E. Although it may be seen as rather hypocritical for a movie that's going to generate a ton corporate marketing junk in the way of toys and other consumables to be damming the very same, what's not often brought up is that corporate types usually force that kind of thing onto film makers. The later Batman movies from the first iteration were made strictly with idea of selling stuff based on what appeared in the movie. I may be reading too much into it, but the Pixar folks seem to be rebelling against this mindset by not only making a movie that decries this, but also by designing lead characters that are either not very marketable (a worn, grimy robot) or near impossible to manufacture as a simulation (a floating oval robot with hovering limbs). It’s also worth mentioning that the lead characters have a vocabulary of maybe a half dozen words, further restricting their potential as corporate marketing pawns.

Adding into this mix is a Disney-fied version of some rather complex sci-fi concepts. If I were more well read on sci-fi fiction I might be able to better relate where some of ideas are pulled from (though the never ending party in Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything sprang to mind at one point). The movie hovers just within reach of kids by leaving open some questions sure to spring into the mind of adults (such as "where do the babies come from?" or "how did the planet get that way?"). It's good that they're deliberately not answered as it adds a complex depth to the movie for adults, while not turning into a Phillip K. Dick cartoon for the kids.

As well, it wouldn't be a Pixar movie without some light push for a higher personal calling. The star of the movie is a materially poor character who has seen better days. However, rather than the typical story where the downtrodden get their comeuppance on their oppressors (of which there are none in the film anyway), the robot shows a great deal of self sacrifice, and indeed, in the end he is willing to sacrifice everything in order to give humanity a second chance that it may not deserve. It's hard not to find it...moving. Art of the highest order, and yet another benchmark by which future movies should be judged.