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Latest 30 entries

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

9:38pm - Gameboy Advance SP Review

I got my GameBoy Advance SP the day after they came out. While shopping for a few accessories for it, I overheard several people talking about not being able to find them in the mall, so evidently I lucked out in finding mine as quickly as I did.

The GBA SP is a $99 handheld gaming system. Its internals are exactly like an old-style gameboy, with the addition of a built-in light for the screen. Frankly, I don't know why they ever left that out. It is being (at least partially) marketed at adults, with a more stylish PDA-look and a flip up screen.

Before I got the system, I made sure that there were games available that I'd enjoy. Not that I don't like a good "thumb-masher" now and then, but if that were all the options available, I wouldn't have taken the plunge. I'm happy to say that I have found not just one but several games to enjoy on this peppy little toy. Since I was on vacation last week, I had many hours to get familiar with the best of my first game choices:

  • Advance Wars - A surprisingly tough and complex tactical wargame. This is the one I have spent the most time playing so far. It is by far my current favorite and I am really looking forward to its sequel, due out in a few months.
  • Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis - This is a mixed RPG/Tactical game. It has a solid and detailed plot with many options and complexities. It clearly has the most depth-of-plot and gameplay of anything I've tried so far. Too bad it is a bit slow to play.
  • Tekken - I got this fighting game to play against my son via gamelink cable. It is a difficult and hperactive title. So far, I'm stomping him, but he has more patience for practice than do I.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - This is the first Zelda game I've played. It seems like I will probably enjoy it, but so far it is mostly shelved in favor of Advance Wars.



[cloned from The Pug's Eye]

Monday, March 3, 2003

8:24am - NSA Spying on UN Delegates

http://www.observer.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12239,905936,00.html

Wow, that is quite the leaked document. Seems that Our Rulers are stepping up the 'Dirty Tricks' in an effort to force the war. In this document, they are actively planning the bugging of UN Security Council delegates.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

10:47pm - Gadget Guy

I am such a gadget guy. I truly love to buy and play with electronic gizmos. I do get some stuff that really doesn't work out, like my old Sharp Mobilon Tripad. It was a submini laptop format WinCE PDA-sorta thing. Yick. I never could make myself use it, even though I spent far too much on it. I've run through for too many gaming-input devices as well. Most are just terrible, shoddily made, or with horrendous driver issues. Sadly, I've never found a PC joystick I like as well as the one I used to love on my old Atari 800, the Suncom SlikStik.

However, sometimes I find the perfect-for-me devices. I love my Tivo. I was an early adopter, bought the lifetime service, and I've never stop being impressed with it. Really, I highly recommend it. Another fabulous gadget is my Sharp Zaurus SL-5500, which is the PDA I've always wanted. I've tried several, without managing to make it part of my life. My little "Z", has made it in, and continues to make me happy a year later.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

3:51pm - It *will* make you laugh

Don't be drinking milk when you go see the poopmoose.


[cloned from The Pug's Eye]

3:51pm - It *will* make you laugh.

Don't be drinking milk when you go see the poopmoose.

3:32pm - You must click this

Wow, following links from other weblogs leads to some funny places. MasturbateForPeace

2:50am - Despot or Sexpot?

Try the quiz. Can you tell the difference between dictators and porn stars based on their mustaches? I can't. evidently. Score 8-16. Boo.

Current mood: amused

12:45am - Ooo, Sweet Gadget

The SliMP3 looks like the perfect device for me. Using you home LAN it can stream mp3s from your Linux, Mac or Windows boxen. It is a small and pretty little device, about $250. The only thing which they could add to make it a "must own" for me would be a wireless connection.

Current mood: covetous

Saturday, February 15, 2003

2:59pm - Moving to Mexico...a cop out?

In a previous post, I mentioned possibly moving to Mexico. I've talked about it with a few friends and I'm having a crisis of conscience about the whole thing. It's not that I don't believe that Mexico would be a grand adventure, it is that I think what was pushing my interest in that direction was fear and possibly laziness.

I see America turning into a dictators dream. A police state with best-in-class infotech snooping capabilities. That phrase, "police state", is a hot-button for some, I realize. I just cannot think of a more fitting term for a society which seems to have forgotten that it doesn't take any courage or morality to defend the speech of those we agree with. American politicians need to be reminded that we want more than the right to consume.

It is in that spirit that I have decided I must stand up and defend the rights I value against those who would deny them to anyone. I can't leave now because it is a cop-out. Besides, the US hegemony will eventually reach anywhere I might run.

Current mood: determined

Friday, February 14, 2003

2:46am - Keeping an Engineering Notebook

While browsing blogs the other day, I came across Overload 48 Editorial - Engineering Notebook, which just hit me at the right time. I've been trying to build up my journaling muscle over the last while, and I feel that I am slowly getting there. Now I'm starting to add the keeping of a Project Notbook to my daily routines.

Keeping an Engineering/Project Notebook has different rewards than a blog. For me, the method of approach is also quite different. I think that is why I haven't managed to keep one going on previous attempts. I've always thought that such a notebook should be kept on the computer. But, I've never managed to find anything which works as well as a physical notebook for the wide-ranging "stuff" which accumulates in a project notebook. Even Emacs doesn't have all the approaches I would want for quickly and accurately capturing ideas on the fly.

So, for the time being, until I have kept a notebook long enough to design a program to encompass it, I'm keeping a notebook on paper. Already I have a hard time figuring out how I did without it. Read the article linked above, it is good.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

11:50am - Password Paranoia

I've got a confession, a lot of my past computing choices were influenced by a fear of passwords & accounts. However, despite the apparent increase in the number of places and tasks which require accounts, I'm getting better at it. The fear is lessening.

Since I haven't smoked pot in a couple years, my memory has vastly improved. This is good. That plus the fact that I don't drink alcohol any longer combine to make my time in front of the computer quite a bit more ... something. I'm not sure of the word I want to use, "present", "effective", perhaps "memorable". Basically, I'm just much less likely to sign up for something and fail to write down the details.

These days, I capture all that information on zSafe, a pretty-good password/account manager I've installed on my Zaurus PDA. That program, along with Mozilla's password manager have been greatly responsible for my recovery-from-password-fear.

Over time, I find myself willing to do things like installing a new version of Quicken, without importing my old data. I've been wanting to do that for years, because my categories and old account info were really messed up, but I couldn't because I had no idea what my ebanking PIN was. I still don't know it, but I can now request a new one and write it down this time.

9:50am - New layout for the blog

With thanks to tim_maroney for his excellent LiveJournal style work, I have finally gotten the journal to be much closer to what I want. The BlogRoll will be growing quickly; right now it just lists the last few blogs I'd read prior to starting the redesign.

If the zeJournal icon above has a white background, then your browser doesn't support transparent PNG graphics. You are probably using IE in that case. Seriously, it is not a good browser or a good thing to do to the net for you to use the "Monopoly Browser". I strongly recommend that you install and use something better, because standards are important.

Something Better:

Linux
You are not using I.E., but if your browser is PNG broken or renders the stylesheets oddly, I'd like to know. Mozilla and its children (Galeon, Phoenix) render correctly, as does Konqueror.

Windows
KMeleon - A very fast, light browser based on Mozilla. It has the great password manager and tabs from Mozilla, neither of which I.E. has. Try it.

OSX
Chimera - I've heard great things about this child of Mozilla.

Current mood: pleased

Saturday, February 8, 2003

11:45am - My Cyber-Name

Funny, click on it to get your own name cyborgified.

Biomechanical Robotic Unit Calibrated for Exploration

11:32am - A subtle sign of war

Picasso's incredible Guernica used to be the backdrop of the setting where UN officials would comment to the press. Now it has been covered by a blue curtain. I guess we wouldn't want to be reminded of the horror of war.

11:11am - Japanese Emoticons

I was doing a little BlogSurfing at blog HotOrNot and ran across a link to this article which discusses japanese emoticons. They use a lot more than we, and they are oriented horizontally. I like 'em.

Examples:

(>_<) ouch
(@_@) dizzy
\(^o\)(/o^)/ "let's dance"

Thursday, February 6, 2003

4:31pm - I love my new glasses

You know how sometimes you are just too pleased about something trivial? That's how I feel about these glasses. They are light, they look nice and they are definitely the best fitting glasses I've ever had.

Little things make me happy sometimes.

10:34am - Why Moving Again?

I was just telling contentlove that I'm planning to move again. We are definitely moving as soon as we can, the only question is where. This house is too expensive and not really all that ideal for a young family.

We haven't made a firm decision on where to move. Actually, we can't make that decision until nearer the time it actually happens. Too many things are in the air for that. Whether I have to find a new job is a big factor. Right now, since my company is dedicated to work-at-home, we could live anywhere that we can get high-speed net access. However, the company is a startup, so it may not last until this summer.

There are three possible destinations we are considering right now:

Portland - We could move to some less expensive, better laid-out house in Portland. It is a great city in may ways and we are becoming increasingly involved in life here. It has the disadvantages of high unemployment, high cost-of-living, and the shortest school-year in the country.

We'll probably only stay here if I have to get another job before we have a chance to move.

Omaha, Nebraska - This is where most of my birth family lives. Since we are thinking of having another child, having relatives about would be a great thing. Plus, it would be a good thing for Ian and Mia, who especially love "Poppa" (my father) and their uncle Dan. It is also a ton less expensive to live there. The school system there is one of the best in the country. The job market is much hotter than here, with Oregon having the 1st or 2nd highest unemployment and Nebraska having the lowest in the country. Unfortunately, it is not as beautiful in scenery or weather. The "coolness" factor is pretty much irrelevant at this point in my life.

Pátzcuaro, Michoacán Mexico - My Father-in-Law owns a beautiful house in Pátzcuaro. There are a few pictures here. When we visited in 2001, it was the first time Dustin or I had ever felt a "home spark" when travelling. We both agreed that we could live there, not just enjoy ourselves on vacation.

Of course, there are a number of problems with moving there, even temporarily. Neither of us are Spanish whizzes, we'd still need a source of income, and we'd have to enroll Ian in a spanish speaking school. There just aren't any English ones.

On the plus side, even if our time there only lasted a short time, it would still be a (probably positive) memorable experience for our kids. We'd save literally tons of money, since we'd be paying very-low-rent to Gene. The house is Dustin's inheritance, so we'll have to grapple with it some day anyway. It is gorgeous there, the people are extremely friendly, and it feels much less like a police state than the US.

To be honest, Pátzcuaro is our top choice, if only we can solve the employment issue. However, it is interesting to note peoples' reactions to the idea. Latent racism and classism really comes out when I discuss such a plan. Just an observation.

I'll be writing more about our decision making process as time-to-move approaches.

Monday, February 3, 2003

10:21pm - Judaism classes begin

Last Thursday I started my intro to Judaism classes. Dustin took the classes last year, but I couldn't take them at the same time since one of us had to stay home with Mia and Ian. I was really looking forward to the class after seeing Dustin's excitement, and it didn't let me down.

The first class was at Temple Beth Israel, which has got to be the best looking Synagogue on the west coast. It is Byzantine architecture, in a circular style of construction. There are about 40 people in the class. We each had a moment to introduce ourselves and explain what we hoped to get from the class. I was struck by the number of people converting from Catholicism. Beside them, there were several Mormons, There was one Witch, and two gay couples from "vaguely religious backgrounds". Most people were there for potential conversion.

The lecture was fairly short, since most of the time had been taken up with introductions. It gave a bit of background and covered a bit of Jewish philosophy. I was struck by the assertion that there is no Jewish creed. There is nothing that every Jew must agree upon to be an official Jew.

Afterwards, I went to my favorite bookstore in the world, Powell's World of Books (a whole city block in Downtown Portland) and picked up a couple of the "recommended reading" books. I highly recommend "The Book of Blessings" by Marcia Falk. It is absolutely beautiful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

8:48am - Windows-only?

I spent far too long last night trying to get my Warp-13a PIC programmer working with newer chips. It isn't that the programmer can't handle the chips, it can. The problem is that the only supported driver software is for Windows only.

That causes me a problem. Trying to be productive and effective writing code in Windows is a joke. Once you've acclamated yourself to the toolset and methodology used on Un*x machines, there is really no going back. But this manufacturer doesn't want to spend the time to support Linux, and doesn't want to document the protocol used in their devices. (Why? Is it that miraculous that others would steal their ideas? Doubtful.)

I digress, my point is just that I just can't make myself suffer through the pain needed to cobble together a decent programming environment in Windows. So, I'm thinkng of doing some hacky solution, such as trying to get the driver to run in Wine. I note that it is written in Visual Basic (One of M$'s Really Bad Ideas)... so it may not work. Ah well. If that dosn't work perhaps I can do something with strategically shared drives.

Monday, January 20, 2003

11:38pm - Updated the website

At long last, I've updated http://zefamily.org with new content. It is a big change, since I've decided not to worry about looks and instead concentrate on content.

It is very refreshing to do it this way. Now that it has the structure in place, hopefully I'll get around to updating much more often.

Monday, January 13, 2003

11:04pm - At last, Lurch moves

Yesterday, after a marathon session of programming and mechanical engineering, I finally got Lurch, my 6-legged walker robot, to move on his own! Woo hoo. He's a bit spasmodic yet, and I need to do some fine tuning of the leg positioning targets, but he can now walk, untethered from the laptop, in a fairly straight line forward.

Next, after a bit of tuning, I'll add the ability to turn and back up. Then, a scanning sonar sensor, I think.

I may have to do some experimenting to see if I can produce some insect like noises for him to make at appropriate times.

Robot Joy

Current mood: pleased

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

6:49pm - LCD Love

Ha Ha! I have finally succeeded in getting an LCD to obey my will. The pesky things have been eluding my grasp for far too long. But at last, I can make them say whatever I want.

Current mood: Triumphant

Thursday, January 2, 2003

10:39pm - Argh! Must...not...rush

Argh, I just blew a load of work. I was building a prototype 7-segment display module for a simmstick. I've got a million of them sitting around, and in many cases, I prefer them to LCDs.

I even remember thinking, "This is pretty ambitious, I should work up a schematic before I get to soldering." I couldn't wait, I just dove in to the assembly. I got to the end, it was very pretty, but I managed to wire them in blocks of 2. So, though I had 8 displays, I could only display 4 discrete numbers. "1234" would be "11223344"

Argh! I'll try and remember this lesson.

Not a total loss, I did learn something about designing things on a "sea of holes" protoboard.

Current mood: drained

Monday, December 30, 2002

11:21pm - The pain of switching

[Continued from "Searching for the Ergonomic Grail"]

I knew it was going to be difficult to change my keyboarding habits. Moving from the QWERTY key layout to Dvorak is hard. You see, other than the numbers, only two letters stay on the same key. It is worth it, since moving all the keys around to more optimum positions pays off in speed and in comfort. With a QWERTY layout, one can only type about 10% of the words in the English language without leaving the home row. With Dvorak, the number moves to something like 70-80%. For example, the home row for the left hand has all the vowels, with only "Y" requiring any finger stretching, and that is with your strongest finger, the index. The right hand has "DHTNS", which makes many word startings-and-endings immediately accesible.

Here are the steps I took to switch:

- Bought Dvorak key labels for all three of the keyboards I use at the house. Remapped the key layouts on my Linux and Windows machines (which is very easy) Found an online Dvorak typing exercize, and practiced it for an hour at a time, 3-4 days. Went cold turkey.

It took about two weeks of mental pain before it "clicked" and I regained any real ability to touch type. Until then, I would find myself with my fingers poised, frozen, while I tried in vain to remember which finger to move. I toughed it out by using the mental stick and carrot. The stick was that I really hate wrist pain and I honestly believed the ergonomics would help (even if only marginally) decrease my pain. It is my career, after all, and I want to be able to continue it without a slow ramp of pain. The carrot was that, quite unexpectedly, I really love the layout. I love efficiency and elegance. It is that and more. Almost addictive.

The tertiary benefit is that NO ONE ever sits at my computer and starts typing. "What the F?" is the usual reaction. I like that.

It has been about six months now, and I am happy to report that almost all my wrist pain has abated. I can't honestly say how much the Dvorak has played a part in this wonderful change, since I changed a few other aspects of my approach to computer interaction at the same time. I can say without reservation that it has been worth it, however. Changing layouts allowed me to relearn some other aspects of data input, which would have been difficult to address in isolation.

I am now a somewhat faster typist than I was before, and I have not lost my QWERTY skills. I am a bit slower than I used to be when using that crappy old style, but I can switch between layouts very quickly. I really did not expect to be able to do that.

One amusing difference is that my mistypes look different than those you find from QWERTY users. For example, I often used to accidentally type "Lust" instead of "List", now I find instances of "ass", when I intended "all".

10:36pm - A random music find

What a bizarre and fun find I made recently. I was looking for some Jazz CDs which Dustin had put on her Chanukah list. Of course I couldn't find them. No one stocks much Jazz, it seems.

As I was giving up the search, I spotted something that just didn't belong. A CD titled "A Twist of Marley" was in among the Jazz. It turned out to be a jazz tribute to Bob Marley, by the infamous "Various Artists". I got it for her on a whim, and the shocking truth is that it is really quite good.

My favorite tracks are "Redemption Song", covered by Richard Bona and Michael Brecker and "Get Up Stand Up" covered by Lee Ritenour and Dave Grusin

Current mood: pleased

Sunday, December 29, 2002

5:36pm - We need a war with Iraq

We need a war with Iraq. It would help distract [more] Americans from the scandals surrounding the president (and more broadly from the fact that our failing economy is killing the planet) than the start of football season: Nothing compares to the patriotic thrill of watching grainy footage of Iraqi radar facilities - or maybe houses or hospitals; the resolution's never quite good enough to tell - explode into fragments, or better, simply vaporize from the pressure of the blasts.

We need a war with Iraq. It allows those who run the U.S. government - both the politicians, who run the nominal government, and the CEOs, who run the de facto government - to talk about new jobs while increasing their fortunes. It allows the top 1% of America's power elite to speak of patriotism while sacrificing lives less valuable than their own. It brings about an urgency - a frenzy, even - that allows the rationalization of massive public expenditures without even the illusion of a greater good or benefiting the public. It allows them to further centralize political and economic power under the guise of efficiency and national security. It allows them to imprison or execute those who oppose this centralization, with no fear of repercussion. It allows them to praise themselves and others like them for giving voice to an urge to destroy. It allows them to invent, deploy, and use no end of nightmarish devices. It allows them to kill, or rather give orders so others must kill, with no fear of public censure. It allows them to pull off the mask of public nicety and more fully concentrate and exercise their power, or more precisely, their power to destroy.

--Derrick Jensen
Read the rest in "We need a war..."

5:35pm - Searching for the Ergonomic Grail

Last summer, I decided to pay attention to - and fix - a problem that had been troubling me for years. The situation was that my wrists and fingers hurt almost all the time, and it was clearly due to computer use.

I decided to do some real research with the intent to follow up by adopting a new scheme for interfacing with my computer. To facilitate coming up with solutions, I decided up front that there were no reasonable limits on what I might choose to do. I was willing to learn new keyboarding skills, even to the point of learning to chord-type.

My solution constraints:
- must be possible to use for the medium-term future.
- must not be purely or primarily Window$ based.
- must be at least half as fast as qwerty keyboarding, preferably faster.
- should be programmer-friendly

What I came up with:
- retrain from qwerty to dvorak typing
- vary posture
- get a zero-force touchtyping keyboard with an integrated mouse

[next installment "The Pain of Switching"]

11:24am - Review of "Acts of the Apostles"

I just finished reading John F.X. Sundman's Acts of the Apostles, reading the last third in one mad rush. I just couldn't continue reading it in my usual style of a-page-or-two-at-a-time. It's too good for that.

It is a thriller/investigatory type of story, written by someone who really understands the life of techno-geeks. Probably he also understands scientist-geeks, specifically genetic researchers, but I'm not qualified to judge that. The story is technically science fiction, I suppose, though that is a rather large category. In any case, it is set in the very near future. As with the best of SF, the author manages to raise important issues and moral questions. Unlike Crichton, Barnes, or other SF luminaries, he manages to create actual characters, not just paper cutouts designed to showcase his world.

The dialog is good, very believable, and the characters motivations are equally well developed. If I have any criticism, it is that the climax seems a bit rushed. Perhaps, though, that is a result of my dash to the end.

I'd rather not spoil this excellent book by going too much into the story itself. Read and you will be rewarded.

Two quotes, selected to give a feel for his style without giving anything away:

Some narrative:

"[...] El Camino, once a thoroughfare between San Jose and San Francisco, was no longer a highway to anywhere. It had becmo a thrty-mile long shopping mall of national chain franchises, the human interface to the global economy. Before the invention of the first integrated circuit, this region had been orcharded -- as open as the farmland on the outskirts of Oneonta. And before that it had been grassland, as open as the Sahel. Soon, he supposed, it would become a wasteland, as shoppers forsook the quasi-human interaction of BlockBuster Video and The Gap for the onanistic delight of Internet shopping." P. 234

And some dialog:

"'Ask me in a month,' she said. 'Got any plans?'

'Think I'll go work for this friend of mine who does market research.'

'Spill your guts on every Dijjy-Mike project you know about?'

'Precisely. The guy who fired me would shit.'

'Who was that?' she asked.

'Monty Meekman.'

'Monty? He slimed you too? I'm impressed.'

He didn't think she was joking." p.110

Current mood: impressed

10:33am - I am a master prognosticator

Haha! Yet another prediction comes true. On Christmas, while doing housework, I began wondering how long it would be until I heard retailers bitching about poor sales. It only took until yesterday. On NPR, the newsreader ran the story of how retailers - WalMart in this case - were talking about the disappointing sales this holiday season.

Shocking! And about as hard to predict as farmers whining about a bad year for the crops.

Current mood: energetic

All text and images copyright Bruce Kroeze, 2002, 2003