Monday, September 29, 2008

Ever Have Your Mind Blown By A Cartoon?

Well, now you have.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

FARK on the Subprime Meltdown

FARK is one of the wildest places on the Internet. The most amazing thing about it is that even though by design it's a frivolous site that usually consists of a bunch of jerks shouting at each other from the safety of their keyboards, a lot of useful information gets posted to it. They recently had a pretty interesting discussion on the country's recent economic troubles. In addition to the original submitted article, many useful links have been posted in the discussion including this link to an amusing but informative Google Docs presentation (warning, gratuitus use of the "F" word) which explains the subprime mess with stick figures, an episode of This American Life devoted to the subject, and the FDIC's statement on what will happen to the Washington Mutual now that it has failed. All in all, a lot of pretty useful information buried underneath a lot of shouting and insults.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Tip For Old Gamers With New Computers

One of the few things that really makes Vista stand out from previous versions of Windows is the cool Aero 3D interface with its flippy windows and thumbnails of all your applications. Unfortunately, the Aero interface is a huge resource hog. I'd been having performance problems running Diablo II with Direct3D on my new HP laptop so I tried running it with DirectDraw. This solved the performance problem but created a new problem -- suddenly it now took Diablo II several minutes to start up. It wasn't ideal but I lived with it for a while.

Suddenly one day, the Aero interface disappeared for some reason (I think it was a related to a new video driver that I installed) and suddenly Diablo II was starting up instantaneously and running great in Direct3D mode. So I did a little experimenting and found a familiar looking dialog box in the Window Color and Appearance item in the Personalization application under Vista. This box made it easy to switch between the different color schemes in Vista. In other words it made it easy to turn the Aero interface on and off.

With a little more experimentation, I realized that it was easy to find this handy little dialog box. Just create a shortcut on your desktop with the following command line: "C:\Windows\system32\rundll32.exe" Shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL desk.cpl,Appearance,@Appearance

Every time you click on this shortcut the Appearance Settings box will appear and you can easily switch off the Aero interface so your games will run at full speed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Can I Borrow a Meme? Microsoft's New Ad Echos the Election

Maybe I was a little harsh when I suggested that Microsoft is irrelevant. Listening to Leo Laporte's TWiT podcast, I was struck by how thoroughly Leo and his merry band of nerds discuss Microsoft's recent ads. They are after all the same tech journalists who talk about nothing but technology, so in that respect, Microsoft has hit its real target quite effectively. 

Another thing that struck me when listening to Leo's podcast was the tone of the new commercial where the panelists agree that Microsoft sees Apple as elitist. That is indeed how Microsoft contrasts itself with Apple. Apple's "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads are fairly simple, a young hipster represents the Mac and a stiff middle aged man in a cheap suit represents the PC. Microsoft's new ad turns that idea on its head with the "PC" guy introducing all of the "common" people who use PCs. The message couldn't be more clear—Macintoshes are for elitists, PCs are for real people.

That's not the first time we've seen this argument made in an advertisement. In fact, we are seeing this argument in John McCain's ads against Barack Obama. Just about every McCain ad and every utterance from every pundit is calling Obama an elitist. It's the exact same argument you are seeing in the new Microsoft ad—Microsoft has just been more subtle about it. 

Unfortunately for McCain, he is not the first person to try this argument. Hillary Clinton made the same argument against Obama in the primaries and lost. Fortunately for McCain, that argument did work to a certain extent for Hillary as was able to close the gap between Obama and herself using that same argument. McCain also benefits from the fact that the elitist argument has been a successful one for Republicans in the past. George W. Bush used that argument against John Kerry and his father used it successfully against Michael Dukakis.

In the end, all politicians tell the people that they are one of them. The most successful politicians are usually the ones who make the most people believe in "I'm just like you" argument. It's a compelling emotional argument. And it's the reason why every politician styles himself as an outsider—fighting for you against the "establishment" in which they have entrenched themselves. Really, it was only a matter of time before some computer company figured out this moldy, hypocritical argument and used it to promote themselves. Congratulations Microsoft, you've gone where everyone has gone before.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The New Season of Chuck

It's fall and the new television season is beginning—slowly. Hulu has been trying to speed things up a bit by hosting sneak peaks at returning shows. So far the pickings have been slim but they just put up the first new episode of one of my favorite shows from last year, Chuck. It started a bit slowly as the first half of the episode was essentially a recap of the show's premise for newbies. But things picked up quickly and packed plenty of action and character development for all the characters. 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Google Evil? It's More (And Less) Likely Than You Think

Slashdot reports on a mistake by Google which resulted in an entire domain being blacklisted by Firefox which uses Google's list of bad website for its anti-phishing filter. The top comment by on the website encapsulated an increasingly common reaction towards Google:

"In my mind giving this power to Google is the most objectionable thing related to the company. I know somebody who has had his legitimate business ruined because Google mistakenly added his site to this list. Why? Because it was hosted on the same physical server as a truly objectionable web site.

People need to stop childishly sneering at Windows users and take their focus away from Microsoft. The terrible Goliath is clearly Google now. Even when it's not being evil it causes trouble just by being *clumsy*."

Whether or not you agree with this sentiment, there is still an undeniable kernel of truth to it. Google is now more powerful than Microsoft, the traditional big, evil boogyman of the computer industry. While Microsoft flails about trying to convince people that it is still relevant which weird ads, Google has quietly built an advertising and software empire which affects all of our lives. People instinctively use Google to search for information so much that the word has become a verb in popular culture. The ads on almost every website on the Internet are powered by Google. I personally use Google every day. I'm typing this blog post in Google's Chrome web browser and it will be posted on Google's Blogger website. And when I'm not at my computer, I still access Google on my cellphone. Clearly, Google is no longer the little company started by two graduate students at Stanford running on a computer made of Lego.

Because of this power, when Google makes a mistake, it affects people heavily. A couple of months ago, Google decided that I was a spammer and now I have to solve a CAPTCHA every time that I want to post something on my blog. Some of the twisted, mangled words that make up the CAPTCHAs can be surprisingly difficult to recognize. This can be discouraging at times and as a result, I'm posting a lot less these days. On the hand, spam blogs are a very real problem and Google would be doing a poor job if it didn't try to do something to stop them from proliferating.

As Google continues to grow larger and more powerful, it is natural that people will grow to distrust it. And the consequences of mistakes at Google will become more serious. I doubt if Google will ever be as "evil" as Microsoft whose hardball tactics are notorious in the software industry and which has been fighting off federal anti-trust and patent infringment suits for almost a decade. But Google's actions whether good or evil now have a very direct effect on people and often that effect can be felt directly in the pocketbook. With all this at stake, it's natural that people are going to get upset at Google even as they continue to use its seach engine and software every day—just like Microsoft.

Fox News Goes Into Reruns

Normally, I hate to bring up politics on the Internet because the arguments get so obnoxious and interminable. You never manage to convince anyone of anything. arguments degenerate into shouting matches and pretty soon Godwin's Law must be invoked. But I just couldn't resist this Daily Kos video which captures perfectly how talking points are recycled over and over again by political pundits. If this were from The Daily Show, it would be part of a hilariously funny segment. But instead it's by a partison website and instead is a devastating bit of political propaganda.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

PC Caught Using iPhone

So much for truth in advertising. Crunchgear catches John Hodgman, "PC" from Apple's "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ads using an iPhone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chicago Pictures

It was a beautiful day today in downtown Chicago so I took a little walk....I noticed the coolest decorative sculptures along the Roosevelt Street bridge between Clinton and Canal Streets. They look old and yet I've never seen them despite having grown up in this town. I really need to get out more.

An elephant, a tricerotops and a t-rex standing on a globe set on a pedestal of books.

Zooming in a bit.

A bit more and now the shortcomings of my crappy camera phone are really becoming evident.

A compass, or an astrolabe, or whatever this thingy is called.

Similar to the first one with dolphins replacing the dinosaurs and elephant.

Another close up.

The corner of Roosevelt and Canal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The LHC Explained

After last night's amusing rap video, here's another one that describes exactly what happens in the Large Hadron Collider in excruciating detail.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The LHC Turns On Today

I noticed that the news are reporting on the Large Hadron Collider which was turned on today. Naturally, the focused on the silly fear mongering that it might destroy the world by creating black holes. So in honor of this auspicious occasion, here's a little rap video that explains what the LHC really does:

CERN Rap from Will Barras on Vimeo.