May 2011

From now on...

…May Day celebrations will feature an entirely different crowd.

Dear Amazon,

I’d like to improve the quality of the recommendations I receive from you. Unfortunately, it’s been clear for a long time that I’ve given you Too Much Information, causing the system to produce basically random results.

The Real Reason For The Civil War because of Slow Cooker Revolution? Amusing. Bacteria-filtering disposable face mask and a watch toolkit because I buy Cajun salame? A bit odd, don’t you think? Hemorrhoid cream because I bought a folding screen? Downright peculiar. Murder on the Links and The Photoshop CS5 Book For Digital Photographers because I bought Soups and Stews 2011? Uh, yeah, right. A ten-year-old Sony 5-disc CD changer because I own Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook? WTF?

And that’s just today; I’ve seen far worse in the past. There’s still some wheat mixed in with the chaff, so I haven’t given up, but every time I use the system, I mark more items “not interested”, and make the problem a little bit worse:

Amazon TMI

I wouldn’t mind cleaning that list up a bit, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to go through 1,353 pages of recommendations in reverse chronological order. By the way, while writing this, I added another 300 items to the list, so make that 1,373 pages…

[Update: a SOG Tactical Tomahawk because I bought rechargable batteries! Paco Rabanne Lady Million perfume because I own a 1 TB external hard drive!]

Portal 2, everyone else 0

I didn’t actually finish the original Portal, mostly because when it first came out, I didn’t want to buy The Orange Box for Xbox 360, and didn’t have a Windows gaming setup. When they gave away the Mac version as part of the Steam release for that platform, I got it, but ended up playing a lot of Torchlight instead. I knew the concepts from playing the Flash version, and of course I heard the song and watched a number of videos of the hilarious dialog and interesting puzzles.

Portal 2 was a day-one Mac release, so I bought it, played it all the way through, and loved every minute. Even the relatively few places where I got stumped (generally because I missed a subtle visual clue or got myself turned around and jumped back the wrong way). My biggest complaint would be not being able to locate the [spoilers] in the one and only timed section; the scene is sufficiently visually chaotic that I didn’t see them arriving, and then only had audio clues to work with, which weren’t terribly directional. And, of course, it was timed, so I had to do it again.

Sadly, there’s an entire second game that I can’t play at all until I get one of my friends to buy the damn thing and finish the single-player campaign. It’s great that they made a two-player co-op game with a real story, but quite frustrating if you don’t have anyone around to play it with. And the idea of playing it on Steam with a stranger just repulses me. The thing I hate most about online gaming is making my fun dependent on the maturity and intelligence of a stranger, going all the way back to the unrestricted griefing and player-killing of Ultima Online. There are non-sociopathic gamers out there, but if I want to be social in a game, I prefer to be in the same room.

Now, as for the common speculation about how you can “scientifically” explain how portals work, well, after the end of the single-player story in Portal 2, you’d not only be killing catgirls, you’d be committing furry genocide.

Oh, wait, some people might like that idea…

(and, yes, after finishing it, I went back and played the first game all the way through, including the advanced maps; it deserves all the praise it’s gotten)

Old-school adventure

The Rick Brant adventure novels are scarce and tend to be priced for collectors. I hadn’t realized until just now, however, that nearly half of them have fallen into the public domain and are available through Project Gutenberg. Cleaned-up versions are also available at Manybooks.

I’m pleased that this includes the first one I read, The Egyptian Cat Mystery, which does an excellent job of introducing the real science of SETI, unlike, say, every other boy’s adventure novel I’ve ever seen that dealt with aliens. Why? Wikipedia says, “During the 1960s, Goodwin served as Special Assistant to the Administrator of NASA…”

The Egyptian Cat Mystery

Dear Amazon,

The Kindle for Mac application is crap. Not in the sense of “limited functionality and poor UI” (although those are true, too), but in a more serious “corrupts user identity every time it does its (weekly?) auto-update”. I had originally thought the problem was with the version available in the Mac App Store (which, thanks to Apple, is much, much older), but no, the direct download from Amazon does it as well.

Basically, if I open the app and it asks me to accept terms and service, I know that it just wiped out my account credentials, and I’ll have to delete:

~/Library/Application Support/Kindle

then deregister it on the web site, launch the app, register it again, and then re-download everything (painfully slowly, thanks to the poor UI).

I note that no one ever responds to people who have this problem on the Kindle support forums, and the last response I got to a direct email report was “gosh, we’re sorry; I’ve forwarded your message to the team!”.

[Update: and again! This time when I finished re-downloading everything, I made a tarball of the known good copy. Next time it blows up, I’ll have a before/after to send them. Grrr.]

Catgirls at play

The AsoIku web site has finally been updated to reflect the real release date of the OVA, and also finally includes a description of the contents (as well as extras available if you buy through specific dealers).

What’s the focus of the story in this special?


Souvenirs of Fortune

This morning, I stumbled across one of the small things I bought in Japan, a souvenir keychain from Toudaiji.

Toudaiji souvenir keychain

Turns out this little fellow has a secret.


I'm comfortable with the size of my lens

When I was shooting for Glamourcon, my rig was pretty silly. Heavy pro SLR with vertical grip, 80-200/2.8 lens that stuck out a mile, big honking flash with a belt-mounted battery pack, and a Newton rotating flash mount. Not so strange for a wedding photographer, but a bit over the top at an autograph show. I often didn’t have the footroom for the 80-200/2.8, so I’d switch to the old “secret handshake” 28-135/4-4.5, using just the 50-135 range with a decent hood. Still, the rig was so bulky that I’d ditch it in my hotel room as soon as I got all the official shots of the guests, and walk around with something more reasonable.

The only thing I owned that was bigger and heavier than the 80-200/2.8 was the mighty 300/2.8, which is great fun outdoors, but not suitable for grab-and-go shoots with models. More of a lug-and-go, really.

Which is why I found Jeffrey Friedl’s recent street-photography shoots intriguing, since they were shot with a 300/2. My 300mm lens weighs 5 pounds. His monster tips the scales at 16 pounds.

The price? “If you have to ask…”

[incidentally, IIRC I’m the one who first described the Minolta 28-135/4-4.5 as the “secret handshake of the Minolta user’s group”, so it was amusing to see the term used frequently in the reviews on the Dyxum site. It really is a terrific lens, but many people have been disappointed with their results; this appears to be a tolerance issue, where certain combinations of body and lens result in a touch of back focus, eliminating its sharpness. Mine was fantastic on three different bodies, and if I ever reclaim it from its current home, my new body supports per-lens micro-adjustments to eliminate any back/front focus issues.]


I was doing some lens-testing around the house this morning, and one shot in particular struck me as interesting for laptop wallpaper.

new wallpaper

Sadly, the result of the testing was that my 35/1.4 is busted; mechanically functional, but severe circular aberration wide open, and horrible back focus. My camera’s micro-AF adjustment can compensate for the back focus, but unless I want to shoot dreamy soft-focus landscape and architecture photos, it needs fixed or replaced. Sony’s current 35/1.4 lists for $1,369, or I can send it to the last remaining authorized service center for Minolta lenses, Precision Camera, for $250. If I don’t want to eventually pitch it, I might as well get it fixed now, while there’s still someone willing to do the work.

I originally bought it used, and it never seemed quite right, but most of the time I prefer to shoot with much longer lenses, so it didn’t bother me too much. Testing it with my newly-acquired LensAlign MkII allowed me to quantify the focus issue, and direct comparison to my other f/1.4 lenses made the CA flaringly obvious. Some of my other lenses benefited from a small micro-AF adjustment, but that was 1-3 units of tuning; the 35 was so far out of spec that it needed -18 units, and the scale only goes to 20.

My previous uses had been at f/8-f/16 at 20+ feet, which mostly masked the defects, but the LensAlign test was done wide-open at 2.9 feet, with only an inch of depth of field on each side of the focus point. And it was off by nearly an inch.

The picture above wasn’t shot with the bad lens, by the way. It was done with my Tamron 90/2.8 Macro (which, I discovered, falsely identifies itself as a Minolta 100/2.8 Macro!), and the lack of focus was deliberate. It’s a dusty old compact disc that was sitting on a shelf, reflecting the blinds from the nearby window.


...the other three were of a breed Verkan Vall had learned to recognize on any time-line --- the arrogant, cocksure, ambitious, leftist politician, who knows what is best for everybody better than anybody else does, and who is convinced that he is inescapably right and that whoever differs with him is not only an ignoramus but a venal scoundrel as well.
Last Enemy, H. Beam Piper, August, 1950

Reasons to stay out of New York City, #551

Being arrested because a cop thought you might be carrying a pocket knife. Not brandishing it, not openly using a clearly-illegal type of knife, but having a slight bulge in your front pocket suggesting that there’s a knife clipped there.

All part of an ambitious District Attorney’s plan to crack down on the scourge of modern pocket knives purchased at major retailers by law-abiding citizens. Because if it looks scarier than a butter knife, it must be a criminal tool that no normal person would own. This may sound familiar to anyone who’s seen the laundry list of cosmetic features used to define “assault weapons”.

Personally, I carry a 555 and a 710, so no Big Apple for me!

Now for the real question. Is this District Attorney:

A. running for re-election.
B. pretending to be "tough on crime".
C. raising revenue with easy arrests.
D. improving cops' personal knife collections.
E. ruining lives with bullshit convictions.
F. diverting police resources from actual crime.
G. all of the above

This book might be from Japan

Just a hunch, based on the somewhat-NSFW cover art.


Sprint, shoot!

The author of Asobi ni Iku Yo! has another active series of novels, Hashire, ute!, which has a manga adaptation running, and given the subject matter, likely an anime series in the works. Judging from the cover art (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), the genre is “military moeblob”.

Book five has a “look inside” link, and the random page it selected for me featured a phrase glossed with the katakana マジノ・ライン …

His most recent release looks to be the start of Yet Another series, Cattail Output!, the cover of which features two schoolgirls with very short skirts, one with glasses, the other with a handgun.

Portal 2+2

Scott and I ran through the co-op storyline today. Lots of fun, although we got stuck good and hard twice, once because we simply couldn’t figure out how to combine the available portal surfaces to get the second player across, and the second time because the solution we came up with was so complicated that we knew we had to be overthinking it and missing something simple (“no, that really is how you do it”).

As usual, it was a lot easier with tablespeak than it would have been with any manner of chat session.

Pity they couldn’t come up with a way to work more Cave Johnson dialog into it…

[Update: belatedly, it occurred to me that the people who are claiming they solved the co-op puzzles alone, only needing a partner to satisfy the “both present at the exit” requirement, are full of shit. For some of the puzzles, getting one player to the exit is relatively easy; the actual challenge is getting the second one across. That was the exact situation that stumped us: I made it to the exit, and could no longer create the portals that Scott would need to use the same method; we had to figure out a different path to the top, using both sets of portals.]

Apologize to your physics teacher!

No, seriously, that’s the title of this novel:

Butsuri no Sensei ni Ayamare!

Yes, that’s Akihabara underneath her, which means the camera shops just tripled the price on all telephoto lenses.

[first novel, came out about a month ago, turned up as a “people who liked Hashire, ute! also liked…”]

Tales From The Dog Side

Presented without comment. It just sort of popped into my head while driving to work…


Car update

So the Camry Hybrid crossed 6,000 miles yesterday, just in time for me to drop it off for its first service. Average mileage over that period settled down to a pleasant 38.2 miles/gallon on Regular. My only complaint at the moment is that when the service-me-now timer goes off, the convenient in-dash display of range, mileage, etc, is overridden; you can get it back for a few seconds, and scroll through the different displays, but it always reverts to MAINT REQUIRED. I could find no way to reset the timer; I could add a dozen categories of new timers, but not clear one that’s already gone off.

For amusement, while I was waiting at the dealership, I sat behind the wheel of a Prius 4-door hatchback. Well, the idea was amusing, anyway; the actual experience was distinctly uncomfortable. Nice storage space with the rear seats down, though.

First one that cackles...

For future reference, when someone comes by complaining about a rogue DHCP server on their network, check under their desk first.

Anime Pop Quiz

Of the two people in this picture, which one is the alien? The sexy half-naked catgirl yawning and stretching on the bed, or the teenage boy who is calmly sitting at his desk reading?

Kio, oblivious

In discussion at Ubu’s place, I settled on “baffled” as the best way to describe Kio’s lack of response to the three beautiful young women who want him. He clearly likes girls, he has an extensive stash of girlie mags under his bed, he enjoys the sight of poorly-concealed girl parts, and always gets a good look before turning away embarrassed. He just doesn’t understand how they could possibly be interested in him.

But what the hell is he doing in this scene? He’s known her for less than 24 hours, she’s curled up on his bed in his dad’s favorite shirt (well, it is now!), and he’s calmly reading. Not sweating and shaking from the effort of not turning around, not nervously sharpening pencils until they’re worn down to nubs (not a euphemism), not reacting at all to the sound of his bedsheets rustling as she stretches, not thinking about the fact that she was perfectly happy sleeping next to him last night in that same outfit. Twelve hours earlier, the sight of her glued into that shirt freaked him out, and now it doesn’t even rate a peek? The boy’s not human.

Rules for Recreational Vehicles, #6

If an actual house passes you on the highway, you're driving too slow.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”