30 August 2009

Sci fi

It used to bug me that the spaceships in Star Wars moved like airplanes instead of like spaceships. Now, I understand that, despite the trappings, Star Wars is mythic fantasy. The fighters are meant to evoke the feel of WW2 movies.

Even today, fighter planes tend to be attacking targets beyond visual range. Not exactly great action movie fodder. How much moreso would it be for fighter spacecraft?

In general it seems strange that in my younger days I enjoyed lots of historical accuracy in my fantasy and lots of scientific accuracy in my science fiction. These days, I tend to enjoy pulp fantasy and pulp sci-fi more.

Anyway, I’ve been watching Defying Gravity, which might be described as a relationship drama with the trappings of 2001. Of course, the trappings of 2001 set certain expectations for me. Which is waking up that nitpicking voice from my youth. Faster-than-light communications? No conservation of angular momentum?

Although, the minute those thoughts come up, another part of my brain starts to rationalize them. Perhaps they’re just “editing out” (as it were) the communication delays. Perhaps there’s a flywheel that spins up even in the case of whatever caused the rotating section to stop rotating.

28 August 2009

iPhone streaming audio

A few of my favorite iPhone apps:

Before I got my iPhone, I already didn’t listen to a lot of music on the radio anymore. I tend to listen to talk more when I turn on the radio. With the iPhone, I’m listening to more music in the car again.

Although I’m going to be talking about streaming audio, I’ll start with the built-in iPod app. I didn’t have an iPod before my iPhone, and one reason was that I was holding out for a multi-function device. So, for you earlier adopters, try to remember what it was like when you got your first digital music player. ^_^ Although, the iPod app also gives me access to more options for talk listening via podcasts.

Of course, several of those are guitar podcasts: Talk about music.

When driving around with the kids, we’ve been listening to Disney radio via ooTunes. I’ve got some music for them on my iPhone, but it’s a nice alternative. And there isn’t a local Disney radio station. Although, I think I originally downloaded ooTunes to serve as a portable radio for listening to a local station.

Pandora is like having a personal DJ. You tell it what music you like, and it plays songs it thinks you will like. It actually seems to work fairly well.

Simplify Media allows you to stream audio from your desktop computer to your iPhone. I was a little disappointed that my iPhone didn’t have enough storage to hold my entire music collection, but Simplify almost makes it a moot issue.

It seems so strange to have a radio station’s signal digitized, packetized, streamed over the internet, broadcast via packet radio, and then fed into my car stereo via an audio cassette adapter. That all seems way over engineered and kludged compared to simple FM radio. It’s also amazing that, even on the Edge network, it tends to work so well. Though, you do have the pause for buffering in the beginning and occasionally the network may not keep up.

Pandora and Simplify, however, give you features that FM can’t. All the music in my iTunes library available to me anywhere I can get on the Edge network or a wi-fi connection. Which, for me, tends to be practically anywhere. I don’t find myself in places without coverage very often.

The annoying thing is that—while reading a book with the Kindle or Stanza apps—I can’t listen to music with any of these except the iPod app. Or if I just want to check my calendar or something, that means killing the music.

The iPod app can also display the current song’s title, artist, and album art on the “unlock” screen, which is convenient. And you can use the button on the cable of the earbuds to pause or skip songs with the iPod app. It is really a shame that these features aren’t available to these other apps.

I’ve concentrated on the primary ways I use these apps, but they have other features as well. And, of course, they aren’t the only apps that do these kinds of things. In fact, I also have three other apps that are for streaming specific radio stations.

27 August 2009

A tale of two Schemes

The Scheme Steering Committee is going to try splitting Scheme into two languages. See their position statement.

The “split” language seems a little off, but the plan seems sound. The “large” language will be a superset of the “small” one, so it’s not like it is a complete fork.

I really have a hard time understanding the controversy. I suppose I’m in the target group of the “large” language, but I want to use a language that meets the expectations of the target group of the “small” language. I don’t see any reason why a single language and a single standard can’t serve both groups.

But it does make sense to separate the various concerns. There is no need to try to fit the core language and the standard libraries into a single effort. Building and ratifying them should be separate processes. In fact, I’d go farther and say that there shouldn’t be a single, monolithic set of standard libraries.

Which begins to look an awful like like R5RS + the SRFIs, huh? At least, if you squint a bit. There was certainly need for improvement, but R6RS seemed to have run off the rails a bit. I mean, it isn’t so bad, but it isn’t really what was needed.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here. It looks like for the foreseeable future I’ll still be programming in PLT Scheme or Guile more than in any standard Scheme. (Not that I get time to do it much.)

26 August 2009

Dice: Is “higher = better” better?

In games involving dice, do people expect higher rolls to be better than lower rolls? Do they find a game odd if that isn’t the case?

Higher isn’t necessarily better in Craps. In Backgammon, higher numbers get you closer to your goal, but a lower numbers are often better tactically. In Yahtzee, although there is some value in higher numbers, it is generally more about the pokeresque combinations. In Monopoly what is a good or bad roll depends entirely on what square your piece is currently on. In Magic Realm, as I recall, you always wanted to roll low. Higher isn’t better in Bunco.

Of course, I can think of some games where rolling higher is always better. e.g. Risk. It seems common enough that higher rolls are not necessarily better, though.

25 August 2009

The 100 best hobby games

Matt Tarbit assembled pictures of the games from Hobby Games: The 100 Best. (Which is on my wish list.)

How many of them have you played?

I’ve scored a pitiful 15%.

  1. Axis & Allies
  2. Cosmic Wimpout
  3. Diplomacy
  4. Dungeons & Dragons
  5. Illuminati
  6. Kingmaker
  7. Lord of the Rings
  8. Magic: The Gathering
  9. Marvel Super Heroes
  10. Shadowrun
  11. Squad Leader
  12. Star Fleet Battles
  13. Talisman
  14. Toon
  15. Traveller

I may have played Champions. I’ve definitely played it’s offspring, Fantasy Hero. I have played Ark of the Covenant, which is a Carcassonne variant. I played a computer version of Ogre. I own Ars Magica and Pendragon though I haven’t played either.

I haven’t played Formula Dé, but I have a hard time believing it is better than Formula 1. It seems a shame that neither Magic Realm or Source of the Nile made the list.

16 August 2009

App Store update

Since I ranted about iPhone App Store rejections, here’s an update. It seems Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing, has stepped in. He’s been personally contacting app developers to resolve some of the issues. It is looking like Apple is getting serious about fixing the problems.

It’s sad that it took lawsuits and attention from the FCC for this to happen, but late is better than never.

05 August 2009

Noggin getting Nick’d

According to idsgn

The decision to streamline the network identities came after they started putting all of the channels’ logos on the same business card—and decided that it looked like a mess

Noggin and The N both seem like good brands with good logos. Rebranding them as Nick Jr. and TeenNick seems like losing more than is gained. I’m not sure that putting all those logos—whether the new ones or the old ones—on each business card makes sense, but I do think the “mess” of the old logos is going to end up looking better than the homogeneity of the new ones.

04 August 2009

Apple App Store rejections

I’m embarrassed to be an Apple customer right now.

I don’t use Google Voice, so the current brouhaha with Google Voice apps doesn’t affect me. It’s another point in the trend, though. Apple insists that iPhone app developers partner with them through the App Store, but they aren’t being a good partner. They should be open and honest about the criteria used to reject apps. They should be clear about the reasons an app is rejected and how the app can be modified to pass. If they yank an app after approving it, they should pay the refunds to the customer.

Furthermore, they should not be rejecting apps for many of the reasons that they are giving. Off the top of my head, I can only think of these reasons that seem legitimate to me:

  • The app compromises the stability of the device (an unstable app is fine as long as it doesn’t compromise the device as a whole)
  • Resource abuse (and I have uneasy feelings about that one)
  • Security issues
  • Privacy issues

No doubt there are others, but the point is that they should be few and used as little as possible.

I have a hard time not seeing some of the reasons that have been given as bogus.

I will say that, looking at some of the lists being compiled, I think many of the rejections have been defensible. Even with those, however, the problem is that developers are left to discover the rules of the game by experiment. Expensive experiments.

This honestly has delayed my plans to upgrade my iPhone. As much as I like their products—which do work besides just looking good—I don’t like doing business with dishonorable companies, and there is a threshold at which bad behavior matters enough for me to choose to do business elsewhere.

Besides, I want a selection of good apps for my iPhone. I don’t want Apple driving developers out of the iPhone app business. I don’t want Apple rejecting apps before I get to decide whether they’re worth my money.

(I’d also like to see Apple allow people—as an option—to install any app from any source with the appropriate caveat utens†. The truth is, though, that I wouldn’t do that with my iPhone.)

I’m not sure if this is right. Participles of deponent verbs always confuse me. ^_^

02 August 2009


Can you touch type? Do you remember how long it took to learn? All those hours of AAAA SSSS DDDD FFFF. Was it worth it?

It’s funny to me how so many people seem so quick to disregard a new input device after less than a day of use. Efficient input requires not only a good device design but also practice by the user. Heck, even voice recognition systems can take some practice to learn to use well.

I used to always tell people that, if they tried using a trackball instead of a mouse, they really needed to try it for a few weeks before they could be sure that they didn’t like it.

When you first try Grafitti, you’re likely to be frustrated. After a few weeks, however, it’s fine. It’s certainly better than any attempt at full handwriting recognition would have been on the Pilot.

The iPhone’s software keyboard may not seem like a great alternative to a hardware palmtop keyboard. After a few weeks, however, most people will be fine with it. The advantages of the software keyboard are numerous.

I don’t know that our laptop and desktop keyboards will be replaced by dynamic, multi-touch surfaces á la Star Trek The Next Generation anytime soon. I do think, however, that palmtop hardware keyboards will soon be in decline.

I really would like a fold-up Dvorak keyboard that would work with my iPhone, though.

01 August 2009

On/off switches

What ever happened to plain, simple on/off switches.

I’ve got (at least) two kitchen appliances (a Foreman grill and an Xpress 101) that are on when plugged in and can only be turned off by unplugging them. I actually found myself wondering if I could get a power strip with separate on/off switches for each plug.

An on/off switch shouldn’t be an accessory.

Now, I do understand that these kind of direct marketing products have to cut a lot of costs, but...really? No on/off switch?

My Digitech RP350 guitar processor doesn’t have an on/off switch either. I actually do use a power strip’s on/off switch for it. sigh All the technology packed inside that box, but an on/off switch was too much.

Some guitar effects, however, have the on/off switch combined with the input jack. If you plug an input into it, it is on. To turn it off, you have to unplug the input. So, it combines the cost and risk of mechanical failure of an on/off switch with inconvenient operation. Brilliant!

Then there are the “soft” power switches. It used to be the on/off switch physically connected and disconnected power to the device. That was too simple and effective I guess. Just the other day I had to pull the power cord on the Wii because the power switch and reset button where unresponsive.

My favorite on/off silliness, however, might be my Yahama acoustic guitar. It’s preamp has a switch labelled “mute” and “off”. “Off” means “not muted” which means “on”. So if I leave it “off”, the battery runs down.