Tuesday, January 31, 2006

MacOnMacs: iPhoto '06 - Fixing Permissions & Sharing

I recently installed iLife '06, which has some great improvements but still has some bugs that I hope are addressed soon. One thing that I know a lot of people have faced after installing iPhoto 6, launching it for the first time, and then starting the requisite library update, is a message telling you to repair permissions on your iPhoto Library folder (and its contents) due to a lack of proper permissions. Here is a quick way to do this:
  1. In the Finder, select your iPhoto Library folder (usually in the Pictures directory in your home folder) and press command/apple-i (File->Get Info);
  2. From the resultant popup, open the "Ownership & Permissions" section and the "Details" section therein;
  3. Make sure that you're either...
    • the Owner and the owner's Access is set to "Read & Write" OR
    • a member of the correct Group and that that group's Access is set to "Read & Write" (see more about this below)
  4. After you've verified that the iPhoto Library has the proper permissions (as detailed in the last point), click "Apply to enclosed items";
  5. Relaunch iPhoto and, god willing, you will be able to now do the upgrade without further problems!

Another issue that is ongoing with iPhoto is having multiple users on the same machine be able to share and edit the same iPhoto library. Maybe there are some welcome changes in iPhoto '06 to address this, but I don't think so (at least not to be able to edit photos as well as view them). Here is one (of several) way to do this:
NOTE: There is one step in the process I outline below that is a little technical, and that's creating a new group. I won't go into too much detail on this now but I'll tell you where to start off.
WARNING: Make a backup of your iPhoto library in case of unexpected results.

  1. In the Finder, select your iPhoto Library folder and move it to Macintosh HD/Users/Shared;
  2. Select your newly relocated iPhoto Library folder and right-click->Make Alias (or File->Make Alias);
  3. Move this alias to the Pictures folder in your home folder and then remove the " alias" part of the name so that the alias file itself is now named simply "iPhoto Library" (repeat this step for the other users on your computer);
  4. At this point you should be able to open iPhoto (and, if necessary, select the above alias as your library) and it will follow the alias to the Shared folder to see the library contents. One problem - all the users may not have permission to modify the files in the library;
  5. One solution to this is to create a new group (I call mine "sharedUser"), which you can do through the Applications/Utilities/NetInfo Manager app;
  6. This is the part I don't want to get too deep into b/c you need to have some idea of what you're doing here (if you're not sure then research this online a bit first). In a nutshell, highlight "groups" (probably in the second column) and click the "New" icon in the upper left corner (you may have to click on the lock at the bottom of this window to make changes). Here is the "Property" - "Value" pairs I used...
    • gid - 201
    • name - sharedUser
    • password - *
    • users - (username1, username2, username3), which should open to show "Value(s)" of...
      • username1
      • username2
      • username3
  7. Now that you have a new Group including everyone you want to share your library with, we're going to go through the process we did in my first tip. In the Finder, select Macintosh HD/Users/Shared/iPhoto Library and hit command-i (File->Get Info);
  8. Under "Ownership & Permissions"->"Details", select your new Group from the pulldown (in my case, "sharedUser") and set its Access to "Read & Write";
  9. Now, with your access properly set to allow for any users in that group to both read (view) and write (edit) the iPhoto Library folder in the Shared directory, be sure to click "Apply to enclosed items" to make these changes to ALL the files in this folder.

Not exactly a simple process, and I really think Apple needs to work on a way to make this kind of stuff easier. I tried making an Automator script that would do this, but I couldn't find all the settings I needed in there - if you know of a way to use Automator to change permissions then please let me know.

Hope that helps to make your move to iPhoto 6 (with its intriguing Photocasting feature) a little simpler! I'll be putting some more posts up here as I get more familiar with the new iLife '06 apps.
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1/31/2006 05:51:00 p.m.  

Sunday, January 29, 2006

commandN: commandN hoodie in latest Superman comic!

This just in...

One of our viewers has pointed out to us that commandN has made an appearance in the latest Adventures of Superman comic (issue 648 - Mar 06). Mid-way through the book, some youths are robbing an electronics store and one of them is wearing a commandN hoodie (okay, we only have T-shirts right now :-) ) in two of the panels. See it here. Pretty cool!

Anyway, have been terribly busy but I should have a several new entries this week - have seen some good movies and read some cool stuff. ;-)
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1/29/2006 12:37:00 a.m.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

inPrint: Take files between the office and home (Microsoft Home Magazine)

I know I'm usually pretty Mac-o-centric around here, but I thought I'd point everyone to a new article I was interviewed for called "Work it: Take files between the office and home" in Microsoft Home Magazine. The article discusses considerations to be made when telecommuting and applies generally to all platforms, not just Windoze ;-) . Check it out!
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1/24/2006 08:04:00 p.m.  

Sunday, January 22, 2006

eyeCandy: Underworld: Evolution (2006) 3/5

Underworld: Evolution is, despite a fairly contrived plot and a couple of hokey sentimental moments, pretty much what you'd expect in a decent follow up to the original Underworld. The movie is great to look at (and, in fact, you also get to look at Kate Beckinsale without that pesky skin-tight black suit on in a little Vampite/Hybrid love scene), but it's a more of a colleciton of cool sequences than a great movie.

The tone is consistent with the first Underworld - dark and hip, sort of a Matrix feel but with vampires and werewolves. The story revolves around the two proginators of the original vampire and werewolf lines. These two first-of-the-species creatures are brothers and, in the intro of the movie, we are shown how the wild werewolf brother was imprisoned long ago for his beastly acts, much to the chagrin of his vampire brother. The vampire brother, after patiently biding his time, is now on a quest to free his ancient werewolf sibling with only our heroes (the vampire Kate Beckinsale and the vampire/werewolf hybrid Scott Speedman) standing in his way.

To their credit, the creators of Underworld are at least trying to develop their own mythology around this endless war between Werewolves (called Lycan here) and Vampires (or Death Dealers) - somewhat in the spirit of what Anne Rice did more successfully in her Vampire Chronicles novels.

In short, if you saw the 2003 Underworld and liked it, or if you're just looking for some action/horror/sci-fi eye candy, then you probably won't be disappointed with Underworld: Evolution. If this doesn't sound like something you'd be in to then I'd give it a pass ;-) .
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1/22/2006 05:32:00 p.m.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

MacOnMacs: A look back at 2005 (and ahead)

Now that we're a couple of weeks into 2006 and I've had a chance to fully absorb January's Macworld event, I thought we could take a look back at Apple's 2005 - one of the biggest years for the company to date:
  • January 11th - iPod shuffle/Mac mini - Apple's first flash based iPod and Apple's strongest contender yet to nudge PC users into the Mac's warm embrace.
  • January 24th - iTunes Music Store downloads = 250 million (about one million songs per day).
  • February 23rd - 2nd generation iPod minis - including a new 6 GB model.
  • April 29th - Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger ships.
  • May 10th - iTunes Music Store expands in Europe (total countries = 19).
  • June 6th - Intel processor announcement for 2006.
  • June 28th - Podcast directory debuts in iTunes Music Store.
  • July 18th - iTunes Music Store downloads = 500 million.
  • August 24th - iTunes Music Store in Japan (total countries = 20).
  • September 7th - iPod nano replaces popular iPod mini.
  • October 12th - iPod with video/iMac G5 with Front Row and remote/Music videos, TV shows, and movies debut in iTunes Music Store (total shows = 5) - fifth generation iPod release accompanied by ABC/Walt Disney deal which allows purchase of video content through iTMS. Front Row and remote opens the door to Mac "Media Centre".
  • October 19th - iTunes Music Store in Australia (total countries = 21).
  • December 6th - Eleven shows added to iTMS (total shows = 16).

A lot of great announcements in 2005, and an increasingly successful Apple along with it. I've got a few things I'm still waiting for in 2006:
  • Intel Mac desktops (given the name change for the Intel MacBook Pro, I hesitate to use the term PowerMac);
  • Intel Mac laptops (probably just called MacBooks);
  • Native releases of pro and other applications for Intel Macs (come on Final Cut Pro!);
  • Dual-booting of Windows on the Intel machines (even if it makes me feel "dirty" :-) );
  • Video iPod (not iPod with video ;-) - flip the current iPod 90 degrees, put a larger widescreen display on front and maybe the controls on the back/side, and, very importantly, increase the native file resolution so that I can watch shows from my iPod Video on my TV at a decent quality);
  • Front Row 2.0 for all Macs (more responsive and more fully implemented - lets see additional control and customization available, display of artwork in Music section, and a lot of bug fixes);
  • Apple Remotes for all Macs (I don't want to have to hack around this any more!);
  • Apple-branded Phone (ROKR just didn't cut it, guys - let Apple actually design the phone and UI this time, please!);
  • AirPort Express with streaming video (and it'd be awesome if it could act as an Ethernet bridge as well);
  • iTunes Music Store expands to include more video content in Canada and elsewhere.

Those are my hopes for what lays ahead, what are you guys looking forward to? Let me know in a comment!
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1/18/2006 10:28:00 a.m.  

Monday, January 16, 2006

iRant: Coincidences Aren't That Uncommon!

We all experience coincidences that are sometimes startling, sometimes humorous, and sometimes almost unbelievable - indeed, the concept has given rise to many beliefs, including justification for the value of things like horoscopes, psychic powers, and the like. It is my contention, however, that coincidences tend to stick in your head and are simply not all that uncommon, thus exaggerating their effect. Thankfully, I've found some people who agree with me (and too many people that just want to believe otherwise :-) ).

The article "Coincidences: Remarkable or Random?" presents some examples of unusual, though easily explainable, coincidences, and raises the following two points to bear in mind when we experiences these sometimes strange occurrences:

  1. "First, we tend to overlook the powerful reinforcement of coincidences, both waking and in dreams, in our memories. Non-coincidental events do not register in our memories with nearly the same intensity";
  2. "Second, we fail to realize the extent to which highly improbable events occur daily to everyone. It is not possible to estimate all the probabilities of many paired events that occur in our daily lives. We often tend to assign coincidences a lesser probability than they deserve".

Scientific/social experiments have confirmed the first point, and the second point is simple a matter of crunching some numbers. For example, if you were in a room with forty other people, what do you think the probability is of two people in that room having the same birthday? You'd think it'd be pretty slim, but a quick look at the numbers (see the linked article above) shows that there is a 90% chance that two people in that group will have the same birthday. As I said, coincidences are just not all that uncommon. Another example is that two of America's Founding Fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, died on the exact same day: July 4, 1826. AND that was exactly fifty years to the day since the country's inception.

I've had my share of coincidences, but I have two separate and unrelated groups of friends who have both had the same kind of strange travel coincidences. In one, a group of my friends fly to Europe (Paris, I think) and then split into two separate groups: one group would travel south to see the Mediterranean countries and the other would travel through Northern Europe. Without any planning or coordination whatsoever (they did not intend to see one another until back in Canada), the two groups passed one another in the street in Istanbul - 1406 miles (2262 km) away, as the crow flies! Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I met someone else who, while travelling in Mexico, met a man from Europe and hung out with him for a few days. They met again (with no planning or thought that they'd ever see one another again) when that same man turned out to be staying in the same hostel at the same time as my friend who was then visiting Panama, months later on a separate trip. Crazy, cool, but not really "cosmic". ;-)

Here is another misguided attempt to put more into coincidences than they merit. Perhaps you got the 9-11 chain mail with this in it:

  1. New York City has 11 letters
  2. Afghanistan has 11 letters.
  3. Ramsin Yuseb (The terrorist who threatened to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993) has 11 letters.
  4. George W Bush has 11 letters.
  5. New York is the 11th state.
  6. The first plane crashing against the Twin Towers was flight number 11.
  7. Flight 11 was carrying 92 passengers. 9 + 2 = 11
  8. Flight 77 which also hit Twin Towers, was carrying 65 passengers. 6 + 5 = 11
  9. The tragedy was on September 11, or 9/11 as it is now known. 9 + 1 + 1 = 11
  10. The date is equal to the US emergency services telephone number 911. 9 + 1 + 1 = 11.
  11. The total number of victims inside all the hi-jacked planes was 254. 2 + 5 + 4 = 11.
  12. September 11 is day number 254 of the calendar year. Again 2 + 5 + 4 = 11.
  13. The Madrid bombing took place on 3/11/2004. 3 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 4 = 11.
  14. The tragedy of Madrid happened 911 days after the Twin Towers incident.

Our good urban-legend-busting friends at Snopes have explained away a lot of this particular issue (and a great resource if you're ever looking to call someone on a story you don't think is true).

In any case, coincidences are interesting - good conversation pieces - but I think a lot of people read far too much into them. Hopefully you can see some evidence from above that they aren't usually any cause for concern. ;-)

I've given you a couple of coincidences I've experienced, but I think it'd be cool to hear about some of yours - so leave me a comment with your own twisted tale.
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1/16/2006 07:59:00 p.m.  

Sunday, January 15, 2006

eyeCandy: Syriana (2005) 4/5

Wow, busy, busy past week for me. However, in the interests of starting this week off on the right foot, here is a review of a movie I saw this weekend. :-)

Syriana is a political thriller focused around the oil business and intelligence interests in the Middle East. The myriad characters and crossing storylines (as well as the political aspect) is very reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (he was an Executive Producer on this film), although I don't find Syriana to be quite as successful a film.

The movie is based on ex-CIA operative Robert Baer's book, "See No Evil - the True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism. In the film adaptation, George Clooney plays Baer's character (gaining 35 pounds to do so), Matt Damon is a US energy consultant employed by one of the princes in Iran, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Chris Cooper, and a host of other well known Hollywood actors, round out a large and talented cast. This is a film that you need to pay attention to - the storyline is thick and intricate, and distributed between a half a dozen different interwoven tales. Like Traffic, Syriana (though again, less successfully) aims to show the range of individuals involved in the central theme, from young terrorists, to wealthy businessmen, to CIA agents, to Iranian royalty.

Those not particularly intrigued by this subject area, or who don't like to have to pay close attention to a movie for it to be rewarding, might be advised to take a pass on Syriana. But for the interested and attentive, the 126 minute Syriana is well worth seeing.
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1/15/2006 10:17:00 p.m.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

MacOnMacs: Macworld San Francisco 2006

Hmmm, what shall I talk about today? :-)

I've been waiting for this year's Macworld in San Francisco anxiously. Being neck deep in news and the rumour mill through commandN (Amber is there right now), I've been exposed to many, many cool ideas and predictions for what would be announced by our favourite tech company. Although I would've liked to have seen some Intel-toting iBooks (I've been promising one to my wife :-) ), there was plenty of cool stuff to go around...
  • Intel iMacs: Six months before schedule, the first of the Intel Macs (cue Darth Vader music) has arrived. Although there are no other substantial changes aside from a new Intel Core Duo processor (the new machines are two to three times as fast in benchmark tests), the prices for both the 17" and 20" screens have remained the same (I like that Apple is adopting this philosophy - similar to what they did with the iPod with video)

  • MacBook Pro: The new Apple Intel laptop (peculiarly only released as a 15.4" widescreen) boasts a name change and a four to five times speed boost from the PowerBook G4 it will replace. A big part of the move to Intel, I think, was to get this sort of speed into the Mac laptop lines, which couldn't be done with the roasty G5 chip. Also showing up in the new MacBook is a built-in iSight video camera (like in the recent iMacs) and the Front Row media player application, complete with 6-button remote control.

  • iLife '06 (including iWeb!): Some great improvements all around in the iLife applications (iPhoto, iMovie HD, iDVD, GarageBand), but the addition of an iWeb application is the most exciting announcement for me. iWeb leverages Apple's intuitive interface skills to allow for very user-friendly creation of "websites, blogs, and podcasts, complete with photos, movies, and music" and getting them online in just a few clicks. GarageBand has some great additions, too: Podcast recording studio (complete with sound effects and auto-engineering feats like ducking); iChat interview recording (just the audio parts for now, but it automatically records each chat participant on their own track for individual editing); iMovie scoring (with the movie frames displayed above the music); and more.

There were many other announcements (10.4.4; new iLife and iWork running natively on Intel; etc.), and you can watch Steve Job's Macworld Keynote Address and find out more info on the Apple web site.
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1/10/2006 10:11:00 p.m.  

Sunday, January 08, 2006

eyeCandy: Good Night and Good Luck (2005) 5/5

Good Night and Good Luck is the second film directed by George Clooney. At a slim 93 minutes, Clooney exercises restraint (far too uncommon in directors nowadays) without ever shortchanging the viewer. The quality of Good Night, combined with his excellent directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, has caused me to re-evaluate my earlier hypothesis that Confessions was a collaborative directorial effort in which I suspected Steven Soderbergh of playing a much larger role than his Executive Director title suggested.

Good Night and Good Luck is the true story of CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow (played to perfection by David Strathairn) who, in early 1950's America, played a significant role in taking down Senator Joseph McCarthy, the head of a veritable witch-hunt for alleged communist sympathizers in United States. This is not the first movie to address the unfortunate era of McCarthyism (Guilty by Suspicion with Robert DeNiro is another good one), but it may be the best yet.

I sometimes find the use of black and white in modern films to be a little pretentious, but here it is effective and entirely justifiable. From a more functional standpoint, it allows the seamless incorporation of archival footage from the time in question - in fact, there is no actor playing Senator McCarthy, he is depicted solely and to great effect through actual footage. On top of this important consideration, the black and white film certainly reinforces the feel of those times as well.

As I've said before, there is something I find very rewarding in films based on fact, especially ones that deal with such important historical events as this. Watching the movie, one cannot help but be impacted by Mr. Murrow's powerfully effective prose (much of his on-air dialog in the film is taken directly from his actual broadcasts) - balanced and rational, but with an emotional poignancy that comes from knowing what you are saying is right and true and good. George Clooney plays Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly (just as Clooney took a significant role in Confessions), and the cast as a whole is top-rate (including Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels, and many other familiar faces).

I'll end this entry with a quote from the Mr. Murrow's "A Report on Joseph R. McCarthy" aired on CBS on March 9th, 1954:

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

We'd all do well to still heed those words today.
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1/08/2006 09:16:00 p.m.  

Saturday, January 07, 2006

inPrint: the Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin (2003) 4/5

The Pleasure of My Company is the second novel from writer, actor, and comedian Steve Martin, one of my favourite entertainers of all time. At 176 pages, this wonderfully written book is an easy read and thoroughly enjoyable. Martin is a talented writer on all counts: his style is unique without being difficult, he can be very funny without being comic, but above all, he is enormously perceptive and intelligent, creating characters who, while being strange and unusual, are entirely believable. Indeed, I think it is this insight that made his original comedy and subsequent writing so enjoyable.

The Pleasure of My Company is centred around the almost cripplingly obsessive-compulsive, though very intelligent, Daniel Pecan Cambridge. The story takes you on a firsthand journey through this highly unique individual's mind and life - following him as he copes with everything from ensuring that the lightbulbs in his Santa Monica apartment always total 1125 watts, to his difficulties in interacting with the outside world (e.g. having to avoid curbs resulting in him only being able to cross streets where two driveways are directly opposite one another), to the development of a touching relationship with his young therapist, Clarissa, and her son. One of the central events driving the story is Daniel's participation in the Most Average American essay contest, where he ends up competing against himself, having entered the contest twice (once using a pseudonym). However, the story is really about getting the reader inside Daniel's head, which Martin accomplishes with grace and depth. Steve Martin's novels (unlike his 1998 book, Pure Drivel) aren't meant to be specifically comical - they're funny because life is funny - but they certainly demonstrate the great intelligence that is behind one of America's greatest entertainers.
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1/07/2006 04:12:00 p.m.  

Thursday, January 05, 2006

MacOnMacs: Keeping Your Media Organized

With all the media that people accumulate nowadays, it's getting progressively harder to know what you have and where it's stored. My favourite Mac application for this type of task is Delicious Library.

Delicious Library helps you catalog, browse, and share all your movies, music, books, and video games through an attractive and easy-to-use interface. To enter your media data, you can type in the title to search and information is downloaded from one of a half a dozen online sources to fill out all the details you'd every be interested in. However, far exceeding this functionality, iSight and other FireWire camera owners can actually scan in the barcodes from their media to conduct the same search with increased precision and accuracy. Your library can be searched through Spotlight, a Dashboard widget, or other methods (including a voice search!). Browsing is just as easy with media covers displayed on a virtual bookshelf for easy identification, and there is tons of other great functionality: sync your library with your iPod, make custom collections (sort of like iTunes playlists), use the built-in loan management system (complete with Address Book and iCal integration) to track borrowed items, and much more. Winner of Macworld's 2005 Editor's Choice Award, the $40 price tag on this shareware is well worth it, especially for those of us who are starting to lose track of their media purchases. :-)

If you don't want to pay for a media manager, and are more concerned about your movie collection than games, books, and music, then try out the less feature-rich, but still very useful, free DVDManager from Fennel. Movies can be added through a built-in online search or manually, loans can be tracked (including Address Book integration), and your library can be easily exported, complete with graphics, for display on a web page or just for use on another computer. DVDManager is great and free (donations are accepted!), providing the essential functionality (though for movies only) provided in Delicious Library without the monetary commitment. ;-)

I'm sure there is a lot of other similar products out there and I'd love to hear what you like best, so leave a comment to let me and my readers in on your organizational find!
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1/05/2006 08:29:00 p.m.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

earCandy: Me'Shell NdegeOcello - Comfort Woman (2003) 5/5

Me'Shell NdegeOcello (try saying that three times fast!) is one of my favourite musical artists. Billed early on as the female Prince, she is a fantastic bass player, vocalist, composer, and lyricist. With each of her albums (she released her sixth since 1993 last year), she has evolved in a different direction while maintaining a level of musicianship and lyrical forthrightness that is a true rarity in the industry.

Comfort Woman shows us a (mostly) calmer and more relaxed Me'Shell. The relative lessening of politically charged uber-funk/hip-hop tunes has been replaced by a focus on deep grooves and "dub"-y atmospheric pieces. The music is sensual and the production values are top notch, with Me'Shell's powerful sexuality in full force. The following quote from allmusic.com is apt: "...if Me'Shell NdegeOcello's Comfort Woman isn't regarded as one of the finest contemporary soul albums of 2003, then those who review music for a living had better get eardrum transplants and a transfusion of blood to get rid of the sawdust, or quit to sell used cars, work in a fast-food establishment, or pump gas." As that review goes on to say, this is late night music, not without energy in the least but possessing a moody easiness that envelops the listener.

The spacey reggae feel of the opening Love Song #1 sets the tone for the rest of the album, followed by the fabulous Come Smoke My Herb, and a host of other fantastic cuts: Andromeda & the Milky Way is one of my favourites, and the beautiful acoustic guitar driven Liliquoi Moon, without seeming out of place, harkens back more to Me'Shell's Bitter album (probably my least favourite album of hers - it is bitter in more than title). Comfort Woman knows what it is and where it's going from the first note, and succeeds wonderfully in delivering. If you're looking for some undeniably cool tracks to play as the party is winding down, or just something to sit back and listen to in dim lighting, then look no further.
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1/04/2006 08:38:00 p.m.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

iRant: One Rule for Driving

I recently read an article recently entitled The Roads May Soon Rule You. It discussed how technology (specifically the field of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), which involves vehicles that communicate with each other and the roads they travel) is making advances that will increase traffic safety. Indeed, the ITS World Congress met in San Francisco in November 2005 to share their research and developments in this area. The article goes on to describe some very cool technologies that include:

  • Automatically maintaining a set distance behind a vehicle and even applying brakes to avoid a crash;

  • Vibrating the steering wheel or sounding a warning when your car ventures outside your lane without using the turn signal (my favourite!);

  • Satellite radio and hand-held GPS that alert drivers to traffic congestion and alternate routes;

  • Collision avoidance systems relying on radar or lasters to detect other vehicles;

  • Vehicles that communicate with traffic signals, road sensors, etc;.

  • Sensors telling drivers the colour of the next traffic light, when it will change, and average traffic speeds;

  • Buses that steer temselves using magnets in the road (like light rail without tracks);

  • Oncoming vehicle speed detectors which determine when its safe to make a left turn.

These are all really neat applications of modern science to solve some very real problems that are a result of our increasingly crowded traffic space, but you're probably wondering: where's the rant? :-)

In the comments to that article, there are a couple of people who mention (justifiably) that the authors neglected to include speed limiting devices in their list. Although I have no problem with that abstractly as a technology, I do have a problem with where these comments were headed (NOTE: Despite how this may seem, I am really not a big speeder at all). Apparently all vehicles should have speed controls and there should be fines ($10,000 plus loss of license for five years) for anyone who tampers with or doesn't employ such a device. This, but of course, should be combined with a detector to read the speed limit on the current road and enforce that limit. Now I have no beef with whoever wrote this comment specifically, as I've heard this kind of talk before, but I simply can't understand how anyone thinks (as many people do) that speed enforcement is the number one way to save lives on the road. For example, the Autobahn in Germany, where about half of the highway has no speed limit at all, has a lower death rate than US highways (and, as an interesting aside, if you crash over the "suggested" maximum speed of 80mph/130kph then you are personally liable for some of the damages you cause).

There are so many terrible drivers around, people that absolutely should not have their licenses (e.g. an awful lot of people have no idea who gets right-of-way at a four way stop), that the fact that someone thinks that speed is the big problem just boggles my mind. Don't get me wrong, excessive speeding in population dense areas is certainly a bad idea, but don't tell me that someone driving 10 miles/kilometers over the speed limit on an open highway is more of a danger than someone who doesn't use their turn signal on a busy road or who is talking on their cellphone (or one of those annoying people that feels they need to make eye contact with you if they're talking when they're driving). And yet how often do cops pay any attention to someone for failing to signal or other disruptive behaviour - nope, they're too busy laying down speed traps.

Not using/misusing turn signals is one of my biggest pet peeves in driving. The whole concept behind signals is to explicitly communicate your intentions while driving - an inarguably sound idea. Yet people either don't use their signals or they use them as they turn instead of before they change lanes/turn (what use is that? You're supposed to be telling someone what you're going to do through your signals, not what you've already done). This is much more dangerous than speeding if you happen to ride a bike past one of those drivers as the suddenly turn to crush you. Then there are those people who you see sitting at a green light for 30 seconds or more after it's changed. Although this certainly angers me, the real point here is that: if you aren't paying attention to the traffic lights then what the heck are you looking at? You're in a car, if you want to just gaze around to your heart's content then pull to the side of the road!

Everybody has different things that get to them about people's driving, and so everyone has a different idea of what constitutes bad driving. After much thought (and framing this in a sort of robot/AI context where you want to develop simple rules to succeed at a task), I have boiled my judgements down to one rule of driving (at least city driving): Avoid disrupting the overall flow of traffic. That's it - simple. Use your signals because it informs other drivers and allows traffic to flow more smoothly. Pay attention to lights and signs because they help direct the flow of traffic more effectively. Don't drive too slow or weave in and out of lanes erratically because, you guessed it, it disrupts the flow of traffic. In fact, and to get down to brass tacks, don't run over pedestrians or get in an accident because that really, really can disrupt the flow of traffic.

I know it might not be perfect, but I can't think of another single rule that would result in more positive change for drivers. And in terms of speed limits, there are few other laws (maybe jaywalking) that seem so tailor made to be broken. :-)

PS: Why, when people can so readily accept inserting technological devices into cars to limit speed, when people think that speed traps by the cops are such a great boon to the public good, why can't we all just decide instead to make getting a driver's license a LOT harder and then see what happens with accidents.
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1/03/2006 08:48:00 p.m.  

Monday, January 02, 2006

eyeCandy: Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) 4/5

First of all - Happy New Year to everyone out there! I've been away for the past couple of weeks, making posting difficult, but I'm back and am rarin' to go for 2006. So on to my first post of the year...

Memoirs of a Geisha is a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. It depicts the life of a young girl who is removed from her family and raised to become a geisha in early 20th century Japan. The story follows her separation from her sister (not deemed attractive enough to be geisha), her challenges as she grows to maturity in the geisha house (a very competitive environment at times), the changes wrought by the Second World War, and her attempts to deal with a love that cannot be. I will leave the details at that so as not to give away any surprises.

Geisha, which translates from Japanese roughly as "person of the arts", were female "entertainers" who, from a young age, were highly trained in artistic and social skills to entertain men (including dance, conversation, musical performance, ceremonial arts - it's worth noting that having sex was not their primary concern). Memoirs outlines this training and includes several effective demonstrations of the lead's mastery of these arts, the most poignant being her breathtaking snow-dance.

Story-wise, the movie occasionally departs from Arthur Golden's popular novel of the same name and the subject material seems to be viewed through a lens which obscures some of the negative aspects of the historical life of a geisha. However, when it comes to visual presentation, the movie is essentially flawless. Director Rob Marshal (of 2002's "Chicago") has crafted a film that, despite having a story that might not appeal to all and that doesn't always "gel", is sumptuous to observe. Scenery, sets, costumes, lighting, and, of course, the beautiful lead actresses (who look absolutely stunning in their kimonos, white face make-up, etc.) combine in every scene to create a powerful and exotic setting around which the plot flows. Indeed, I enjoyed watching this movie as much (and maybe more) for this incredible attention to detailed design (in addition to the fine acting by Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Ken Watanabe) as for the story itself.

It seems to me that the world of the geisha presented here might never have existed in this way but (despite the obvious hardships) it is certainly a beautiful dream.
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1/02/2006 04:08:00 p.m.