Archive for February, 2006

Death Cab For Cutie – “On the road with…” DVD – background noise review

February 28, 2006

After chilling out in the sofa, surfing the net and gradually getting sleepier as the laptop grew warm on my lap while playing a DVD called “Drive well, sleep carefully – On the road with Death Cab For Cutie” in the background, it seemed only natural to write up a very short review of that DVD here.

Death Cab for Cutie DVD cover and sleepy netizen
No, I’m not on drugs, I’m just sleepy

I should probably start at the beginning (even though reviews seldom do). Why Death Cab For Cutie? Well, it happens that I live next door to a guy who tends to stay up late and listen to music. I tend to be a guy who stays up less late. As the wall between our rooms is pretty thin, I sometimes get a free dose of music through the wall. Usually, it’s pretty OK – he’s got a pretty OK taste in music. It could’ve been a lot worse.

Well, you’ve probably already guessed where this is headed. Indeed – he had been playing “Transatlanticism” (the album) by DCFC for about a week non-stop (of course, I didn’t know what the record was called then, and it was probably a little less than a week) when I asked him what he was listening to – and if he could please upload the stuff to my drive.

Eventually, he obliged, and eventually, I got down to transferring the stuff to my MP3 player. It turned out it sounded even better in my headset than through the wall. I especially like “The Sound of Settling” (though I am enourmously frustrated by its short length, which paradoxically is part of its appeal), “Transatlanticism” and “Title and registration”. (If you ever hear me humming “the glove compartment / is not accuratly named”, those are the first words of “Title and registration”. You know, just in case.)

Both of my, eh, “dorm mates” went to England some time ago, and a while after they got back this DCFC DVD turned up, and eventually found its way into the DVD player, in which fate or coincidence, take your pick, led me to play it today. So what do I think?

The DVD is a mix of concert recordings and interviews, apparently all recorded on 16mm film. The concert recordings are a bit weak in the technical department sometimes, but given the format, I guess that’s natural and meant to be charming (which is usually is on this DVD). Overall, I enjoyed listening and seeing the band in a live setting, but I think you’ll need to be a fan to really enjoy this disc. Meaning: Listen to the albums first, and since I only know one of them, that means “Transatlanticism”. I really like the first track on “Plans” too, but that’s all I’ve heard of that one yet.

Wow. That’s got to be the best background story to review-ratio the world has ever seen.

In technology, Apple released a boombox system for the iPod as well as a mac mini with an Intel processor. I feel slightly underwhelmed. Maybe if it had a wireless component built in, or something else to really differentiate it. Of course, it can charge your iPod, and you can kit it out with batteries and take it outdoors. But if I had an iPod and wanted to combine it with my stereo, I’d rather get a wireless transmitter and hook it up to my receiver, so that I could use the iPod itself as a remote control. With Apple’s solution, you swap the dandy display and cozy clickwheel of the iPod with the six buttons on the remote. Not a nice bargain.

Politics: In Iraq, somewhere between 400 and 1500 people have been killed since the Shia mosque was blown up last week. Tragic.

Advertisements

Taking it easy on Sundays?

February 27, 2006

Yep, no post yesterday. I’ve a clear conscience – I was combining getting out of bed pretty late with correcting assignments in systems engineering, skiing and having dinner over at Lene & Karsten’s place. That dinner was probably the best we’ll have all semester. Well, unless we’re invited again, that is. Someone mentioned “moving” and “carry stuff”. I was too full to catch all the details.

Anders and Johannes is out skiing

We had some misgivings about the conditions right after starting out from Frognerseteren, but the trip turned out really great. Brilliant weather and mostly not too icy (though far from the silky quality of snow we prefer). Me, Anders and Johs went the route me and Johs went earlier – up to Ullevaalseter and down to Sognsvann. I didn’t fall once!!

Dinner in new sofas!

On Saturday, we celebrated our new sofas. They are really awesome. At least compared to the ones we had before! For dinner, we made, eh, pizza. I should probably mention that it’s my “design” and that someone exclaimed “What? Pie?!” upon spotting it. It tasted pretty OK, though – we made two different “pizza pies”, one of them desecrated with the oh so unholy “picnic ham”. I think the American term is “spam”. I’m not to blame for that ingredient, but I won’t name names. In the end that pizza was eaten too, so it can’t have been all that bad.

So, what’s up? I feel like I’m swimming in work of various kinds – of course, I am wholly to blame, so it’s not a complaint – I’m merely stating a fact. Right now I’m coping. Tomorrow I’ll get a boatload of assignments to correct, and I feel like I’m behind on work in my subjects (as well as with my master’s degree). Guess that’s the way it should be. No?

Thanks to a new-found self-restraint in the area of websurfing, I’m not that up to date with current affairs. (Meaning: It’s been more than 12 hours since I read the news sites…) It seems not much headline-grabbing is happening right now. I guess my pick would have to be that bird flu is spreading in Africa (BBC).

BigBang

February 25, 2006

No post yesterday – I was busy dodging drunk students and their beer while listening to BigBang, who played in Ås.

DSC00620

Overall, it was a good concert. Obvious highlights were “Wild Bird” and “Girl in Oslo”, but I also really enjoyed some of the other tunes they played. As always when on a concert with a band I don’t really know that well, I regret not listening to more of their music in advance. My faulty handsfree set is to blame for that.

I won’t make the same mistake with the Mew concert in March. Though I’ve nearly worn out my “Frengers” MP3s, the latest album is mostly unknown to me. That’ll be rectified.

Violence continues in Iraq (BBC). At least it seems leaders on both sides are united in calling for restraint, even Moqtada Sadr. Grounds for optimism?

Boxing-aerobic, Apple and sadness

February 23, 2006

Another day, another type of exercise. I agreed to join Margrethe and take a class of so-called “boxing-aerobic”. It turned out this meant you did some aerobic at the beginning, followed by situps, pushups and some, eh, power jumps (I have no idea what the English term for “spensthopp” is). Eventually we got to boxing – which involved, unsurprisingly, putting on some boxing gloves and punching away at pads held by your partner.

Being on the receiving end of punches proved more tiresome than I thought. Punching was fun, though. I can see why some people do it for a hobby. I’ve never tried anything much like this, so the satisfaction of landing some proper punches was a fresh experience ;)

After doing various punches, we moved to kicks, which was fun, although not as satisfying as punching – probably because the technique is harder to get right. I had to take it easy for a while – can’t seem to learn that moving from 0% to 100% intensity too quickly is a bad thing for me. The consequence is that I have to really cool down for a while before I am good to go again.

If you feel like doing some different and quite varied exercise and don’t mind being branded a girly man by your friends (that is, if you’re a guy, about 5 out of 25 or so there were male), this is something you could try.

In other news? Apple is preparing to launch new products and will announce them on February 28th. My bet is that we’ll see the Intel iBook and probably a new iPod Shuffle. I was really keen on getting one of those Intel-powered iBooks, but it seems Apple has made them more Windows-proof than people orignally anticipated. Attempts at making them boot any flavour of Windows have failed pretty miserably – apparently because the new machines use the new EFI type of BIOS, which is a first for consumer PCs. A blog on the matter is here.

Until I know I can boot Windows on those iBooks, getting one is out of the question. I wonder if Apple has done any market research on whether it would pay off for them to make their Macs Windows-compatible. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose purchasing decision depends on that.

So, with all the trivial stuff out of the way, has anything important happened in the world today? Meaning: Has anything headline-grabbing happened? Yes. Sadly, some extremists blew up a holy Shia mosque in Iraq (BBC), causing a huge increase in violence between Iraq’s two main religious groups, the Shia and the Sunni. You can read the reactions of some Iraqis here (BBC). This is just tragic; naturally, everyone is worried that this will move Iraq far enough towards civil war to make it become reality. An action like this – so obviously aimed at increasing tension between the Iraqis themselves – it just makes me sad.

Electronic Arts, DICE and lousy software engineering

February 22, 2006

Last summer, the first person squad-based shooter Battlefield 2 was launched by DICE and Electronic Arts. Having played the predecessors, Battlefield: Vietnam and Battlefield 1942, I was very much looking forward to this game. I was not disappointed; Battlefield 2 was and still is the best game for team-based infantry/vehicle combat.

However, from the beginning it was apparent that there were problems. For me personally, I was annoyed that the game required 3 (more…)

Sony Ericsson W800i / K750 HPM-70 handsfree troubles

February 21, 2006

Today was spent helping people with SQL in class and travelling by metro to have my mobile’s handsfree set replaced. As detailed in this thread, I’ve had the cable to one of the earbuds break. That happened before Christmas; I switched over to using only my separate headset. (The handsfree consists of two parts – the main cable, integrating microphone and a 3,5mm audio socket and the pair of earbuds.)

About a week ago, I started having trouble with the main cable too. When bending it slightly I’d lose sound on one channel. Incredibly annoying, when you use the phone as a music player regularly, as I do. Thus I went out to SIBA at Trosterud, which is where I bought the phone back in August. Fortunately, Anders joined me, so the trip was less boring than it could have been. (In retrospect, I wish I’d bought it someplace more central – of course, the only reason I bought it out there was because they were the only ones stocking it at the time.)

I was halfway expecting an argument when I started talking to the SIBA guy, but this seems to be a well-known issue. He agreed to have it fixed straight away (meaning it will be replaced), but they had to send it in to the SE repair shop, who will send a replacement back to them, hopefully within a week. I’m happy I didn’t have to make a fuss about it, though it’s still incredibly annoying to have to wait a week.

The big question here is why the handsfree set is so fragile. The plastic encasing the cables is so crispy, it’s not surprising it breaks easily. Why not use a more robust type of material? I’ve never had a pair of earbuds or a headset where the cable or connector have been anywhere near being a problem. Of course, this was the first walkman phone – hopefully they are learning.

Now I’m pondering what I should do to avoid the problem repeating itself. Wrapping the most vulnerable areas of the cable in tape could help a bit. Problem is, the whole design is just badly thought out. Stiff, thin and crispy cables do not go well with being pulled in and out of pockets and being used on the move.

Crossing over into the important paragraph of today’s post: The news that should not be missed today are, I guess, the most recent bombing attack in Baghdad, causing at least 22 deaths (BBC) and reports that the capture of war criminal Ratko Mladic might be coming closer (BBC). Fingers crossed.

PS: Today’s amusing event of the wry kind was an argument between shop assistant and customer I overheard at SIBA. The issue was a D-Link wireless router, which unsurprisingly had caused the customer plenty of problems. I have to say that my cumulative experience with D-Link products (2 bad routers, 1 bad WLAN-card, 1 good WLAN card) is not good. I really felt for both customer and employee in that situation – they should’ve just returned the product to D-Link and given him a Linksys or something instead. I think in the end he left with the router and a D-Link WLAN card, which was supposed to “work – guaranteed!”. I’m crossing my fingers there, too.

Sleepy Monday, and: Becoming a Red Cross “standby supporter”?

February 20, 2006

Getting out of bed at 12:40 is no good. It means that your virtual “day at work” as a student willl last at least until 20:00. Correction: It should last until 20:00. I have to admit, my working day has been a bit fragmented, but I did manage to read some articles and do some work on the subject I’m a group teacher in.

Today’s most interesting pieces of information are the continuing unrest in Iraq (BBC) and the drought in eastern Africa (Reuters). Coincidentally, I heard about the drought earlier today – in the quarterly magazine of the Norwegian Red Cross. Fortunately, it seems Kenya is better prepared than a lot of other African countries when it comes to this type of crisis. They still urgently need donors though – Kenya’s image as a relatively well-organized country can make the crisis look less urgent than it is.

I’m considering joining up as a Red Cross “standby supporter” (in Norwegian: “beredskapsgiver”), meaning they’ll text you whenever some situation requires immediate funds. I’m already supporting Medecins sans Frontieres on a monthly basis, but this new Red Cross concept appeals to me. Of course, it’s not hard to find objections – firstly, there are always tons of emergencies at any given time, and maybe they could save the resources spent on texting people and use them for actual aid instead. However, I’ve got a feeling the novelty of the concept will make it worthwhile. Being listed on the Red Cross standby supporter list, always ready to dole out some aid when it’s really really needed (and getting the alert via SMS!) somehow seems more cool than just giving for the sake of giving.

I don’t know, we’ll see. This SMS thing could perhaps make giving a little more personal. “Hi Are, a flood just hit Bangladesh, and the people down there really need help.” Maybe getting the information via your cellphone brings it closer?

Interestingly, there’s no mention of being a “standby supporter” on their website, which is where it really should be marketed if they want to make this “cool” and target it at young people. I’ll send them an e-mail and ask about that.

Have a fabulous Tuesday, and consider supporting an aid organization of some sort on a monthly basis if you aren’t already.

Today: Israel imposes sanctions on the PA, PS3 really expensive, BF: 2142?

February 19, 2006

The major headlines in my world today are as follows:

Israel imposes sanctions on the now Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority (BBC). This means that a lot of the funding for the PA will be cut off. That happened a little too fast, I think. Wouldn’t allowing Hamas, the PA and the Palestinians a little more time to adjust to this new situation be a better idea?

On the technology side of things, Merrill Lynch (PDF file) (by way of Kotaku) is concerned about the cost of building the PlayStation 3. They believe it’s going to cost $800 to $900 to make, in large part owing to the Cell chip and the Blu-Ray drive. That’s a big loss for each console you sell if you price it at $400 or even $500. Consequently, an analyst cited by Merrill Lynch believes the PS3 launch may be postponed to allow Sony to reduce manufacturing costs. Meaning, the worst case is? Fall 2006 launch in Japan, Spring 07 in the US. Of course, this is just educated guesswork, but interesting nonetheless.

In gaming, the producer of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat for the Xbox360 dropped a hint about future Battlefield products in a Shacknews interview . To quote from their interview:

Shacknews: What can we expect for the future of the Battlefield franchise?

Dan Blackstone: We’re about to announce something very big, so stay tuned. One other interviewer asked this and I gave him a hint, so it’s only fair that I do the same for you: 3213/3X2. Or said another way: S.R. 4588164.

Bright minds quickly figured out that this can be calculated (S.R. being square root) and equals 2142. This would fit well with the naming of the first BF game, Battlefield 1942, and I guess it’s only natural to go from the forties, to the sixties, to the present day and into the future. I’m not convinced this means they’ll make noteworthy advances in the core gameplay, which is what’s makes the games interesting, 1942 or 2142. However, the squad and the commander mode really is what makes BF2 so interesting, and I’m hoping that they can come up with even more stuff to encourage cooperative play.

With that said, I’m not going to comment on today’s rather disappointing Norwegian results in the winter olympics, but do my schoolwork so time can be cleared for Battlefield later on.

Saitek Eclipse keyboard – brief review

February 18, 2006

I went out and bought the Saitek Eclipse keyboard today, to replace my Logitech UltraX keyboard. In a keyboard, I want a few things:

  • Full, standard layout, no silly rearrangement of PgUp/Dn, Del, Ins, Home, End etc
  • A standard Enter key
  • Few if any “media buttons”
  • Comfortable typing
  • Silence
  • Finally, because this is used with a laptop, an USB connector

It turns out finding a keyboard that matches these specs wasn’t that easy. The UltraX has a brilliant key layout, but it’s so thin – the key travel is almost non-existant. Like a laptop keyboard, only less sensitive and more noisy.

Most “standard” keyboards are both cheap and decent, but they normally feature PS/2 connectors, and the PS/2 -> USB converter is an expensive piece of kit (about 400 NOK or 60$). Thus, I was stuck with a selection of “media keyboards” with an abundance of extra buttons and weird key placement.

Eventually I decided to go for the Eclipse. It’s got a good key layout, the only extra buttons are increase/decrease volume, mute, and light setting. It’s got a blue backlight, which looks OK and… shocker coming up here: Enables you to type in the dark. Even if you don’t know your way around your keyboard without looking at it ;) Fortunately, the light setting button can turn off the light or dim it, which is very handy.

DSC00617

Key travel and sensitivity is nice. The space button is larger than normal, but that is no hindrance. The wrist rest is adjustable – it can be extended towards you. I found this immediately useful.

To conclude, after using it for a short while, I like this keyboard. However, if you can live with PS/2 and all you need is a decent keyboard, it’s obviously just as good to go with a good OEM type standard keyboard. If you do need the USB connector, find backlighting a nice feature, want a quality keyboard without a billion extra buttons you never use and think spending ~500 NOK (roughly 50$ I believe) is OK, this could be for you.

The MSN network is blocking certain phrases

February 17, 2006

It seems appropriate to mention this straight away – it turns out the MSN network blocks certain chat-lines. An example: Say “hi there, go to http://www.download.com/download.php and get my new piece of software”, press enter, and the message is apparently sent. However, it never reaches the recipient. And you are never told your message was blocked.

This would be less bad if Microsoft had told us about it. However, it doesn’t really inspire trust when an instant message service just ignores certain phrases without saying a word to you. Considering that sending lines of text really is the main feature of instant messaging, screwing that up is pretty silly. Will be interesting to hear official word on this (it might be out there already, of course, I haven’t really done my googling on this yet).

Naturally, there are good arguments for blocking certain phrases – ie “please change your amazon contact details here: http://amazoncontactdetails.shadydomain.com” or similar. But without letting you know? And with phrases as generic as “download.php”? I don’t think so…

The point of this story? If you want to reach your conversation partner with your instant message, you’d better stick to a different network, such as Jabber or Skype. (Yep, it’s blocked in the network, not the client – I’ve tried it with Trillian.)

By the way, can’t find anything on Google News on this – is it because it’s not news, old news or not news yet? (A Norwegian article on the subject here: http://forbruker.no/digital/nyheter/article1226188.ece.)