Friday, October 28, 2005

Guilty of Esquivalience

esquivalience—n. the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities . . . late 19th cent.: perhaps from French esquiver, “dodge, slink away.”

That's my new word of the day.

Even though it isn't a real word.

I came across an article at the New Yorker (don't laugh, I wouldn't have picked one up or read it online had I known that's where it was from before I read the article) and it's pretty interesting. Basically it says that dictionary publishers put in fake entries in order to protect their copyright, if the entry turned up in a competitors listings, they'd know it was ripped off.

Pretty interesting reading from a fluff magazine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Words of Safety

Just wanted to let all our readers know that my pal JW down in West Palm Beach is ok. As most of you know, Hurricane Wilma hit Florida stronger than expected at Category 3. It was also a big surprise that the west eyewall (typically regarded as the weaker side) was acutally much stronger than the initial, eastern one. He also commented that the 'freakishly large eye' was indeed rather spooky to see in person. He said he got some great pics of the eyewall and I'm sure once teh internets are restored down there, he'll throw those up to see.

From the numbers that I am seeing at work, there's less than 20 percent power restored down there, indeed he said that both his home and work were both out. The place he is staying down there (with friends) received some minor damage, nothing spectacular.

I read that cell phone service is about 80 percent restored down there, most of the internet providers are still down though, and plain old telephone service is spotty at best.

I've been getting pretty good information from the State of Florida EOC (which is a few minutes away from where I work) and the Palm Beach Post.

GT-R Proto Minisite goes live

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, the GT-R Proto is one of the cars that has been attracting attention at the Tokyo Motor Show (along with the Evo X concept, see previous post.) GT-R for those of you who don't know, is the Americanized name for the Japanese market Skyline GT-R, a truly legendary car. Skylines, of course, aren't sold in the US: you could only get previous versions of the car in Europe, Australia, and Japan (because they never made a left-hand drive version.) The GT-R Proto is the hopped-up version of the current model Nissan Skyline (sold in the US as the Infiniti G35) and *could* (cross your fingers) be sold in the US, possibly as an Infiniti as well.

Why is the GT-R so cool you ask?



Imagine an intelligent torque-sharing all-wheel-drive system (ATTESA), four wheel 'steering' (which is, in reality, a brake control system called SuperHICAS), aluminium and carbon fiber bodied car, all powered by an RB26DETT straight-6 engine, boosted by not one, but two Garrett ceramic-bladed turbos. Due to a 'gentlemen's agreement' in Japan which limits horsepower in cars to 276 horsepower, the 'paper' power of this car looks a little low. It's actually capable of a lot more but has been 'detuned', cars that made it to public dynos outside of Japan have seen this car made 320 horsepower (with small tweaks like removing intentional restrictions in the intake or exhaust systems which are easily removed.) Tuned versions have made as much as 500 horsepower with basically bolt on parts, there is little that needs to be changed to the major engine components in order to make this a scary road-racing machine.

Anyway, Nissan bodged together a pretty nifty little flash site that has a decent gallery, a couple of videos, and an interview with the chief designer of the Proto. Make no mistake with the name, this is basically the next generation of the Skyline GT-R (oddly enough the previous version was called the R34, the new one will be the R35, and based on the G35....coincidence?) It is the prototype (hence the Proto name) and not in final form (in my mind the design needs some cleanup) but it's a postive sign nonetheless that Nissan wants to make the Skyline a dominating car again, after a few years of absence (the R34 GT-R was discontinued a few years ago when the more tame base model Skyline was replaced with what we know as the Infiniti G35.)

There's a good article about it, and some more photos for you to peruse here.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Mitsu Lancer Evo X Concept

Those of you who are really interested in cars, or rally cars in particular, have probably already seen the Evo X (read Evo 10) concept. Sketches of the styling cues have been around for a couple of months, and 'official' pictures of the car have been online for a few weeks.

Regardless, the Evo X concept was shown at the Tokyo Motor Show, which started last week and runs to November 6th. This is the first time that the car was really shown from all angles, and Autoweek has pics from both the show and press pics which show the car on the road, in the grass, etc etc.

So far, Mitsubishi is exciting me with their styling direction, looking at the concept you can tell the things that probably won't make it to production (the rear air diffuser, the clustered LED lights, and the billet-looking interior) and the stuff that probably could (drilled and vented Brembos, the sleek lower-profile wing, and the rather agressive front end.)

I've always been a big fan of sporty 4 doors (whether you call 'em sedans here or saloons overseas,) and I think it's time that a sleek, slick, and agressive car like this hits the streets. I like the low ground effects, the angled-brow headlights, and the sleek and clean interior. I like the overall proportions of this car (and think it would make a horrible coupe,) I like how it doesn't look as boxy as previous versions of this car, and the no-holds barred functional look.

View the photo gallery here, and the accompanying article here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bricking a PSP

No not mine!

But just in case you were wondering what such an event looked like, the folks over at F-Secure decided to tape the process and posted it on their blog. They walked through what 'good' code looks like, and then what the trojan does.

"Your PSP is now as useful, and entertaining, as a brick."

[Via Engadget]

Monday, October 17, 2005

First Look at R32/R36

The guys over at VWVortex managed to get their hands on a Euro version of the brand spanking new Mark V R32. Personally, I'm more partial to the Mark IV design myself, I'm not a big fan of the new VW 'brand' styling (although it looks rather fetching in VW's cousin Audi trim, go figure.) The biggest thing that I am excited about right now is the DSG transmission, here's hoping that it comes over when we get the R36 (as a 2007 model) which should work nicely with the estimated 300 hp it's due to make.

Welcome to 'The Lab'

Took a pic of the office this weekend and tagged it up with Flickr. Pretty snazzy if you've never tried it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Grippy PSP

Just a quick post to illustrate the Grippy mod on my PSP:

Grippy PSP

It's a quick application of eGrips (the little squares from the 'Universal Set'.) We bought an extra sheet (in black) for a friend with a Nextel phone, and the parts he didnt use ended up in my junk drawer for about a year. Both Raven and I have SE T616's with the aluminum backs, so black wasn't really usable, and it was a particularly easy fix to having slippery fingers on the back of the PSP.

If you've never seen the eGrips material, it's kind of a thin rubbery cutout with adhesive on the back, they can be colored by a piece of plastic behind the rubber. If you've seen those rubber squares you put on your dash in your car, this is the same type of thing just much thinner. I used a silver square on the back of my Zen so that I can stick it on the dash in the car and it doesnt slide.

Friday, October 14, 2005

PSP Nonsense

What with all the strongly worded warnings like this one at Secunia, this one at Symantec, or this one at ZDNet, you'd think that the PSP was a very vulnerable device.

I don't think so.

After all, only the 2.0 and up firmware's have a built in web-browser (before that you had to use the Wipeout: Pure internal in game browser with some hacks), it doesn't run a common OS (like Windows), can't download attachments laden with spyware or trojans (like Outlook), and hardly ever connects to the Internet (most people that turn on the wireless are playing ad-hoc with another PSP or downloading the new firmware through Sony.)

The media has made a huge deal about it too, I personally saw a report on CNN (which is on all day in the office, except when someone turns on Fox News (/me rolls eyes)) in which they basically made this out to the "MOST DANGEROUS THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED!!!" I mean come on people!

The Secunia advisory points out the .TIFF buffer overflow that lets a 'hacker' run 'mailicious code' on your unit. So far the bulk of the code being run is so that people that have the 2.0 firmware can roll it back to the 1.5 firmware, the last version that allows owners of the PSP to run homebrew code on it. Right now those with 1.5 can open Acrobat documents, listen to Shoutcast streams, play emulated Nintendo, N64, Gameboy, Sega games, etc etc. Yes there is a small percentage of people out there that are running pirated games, but with any gaming device you're going to have that small crowd which insists on playing 50 dollar games for free. (The fact that you have to spend 80-150 bucks to get a Memory Stick Pro Duo to play a downloaded game, by the way, escapes most of the people that argue that PSP game piracy is raging.)

The Symantec advisory warns against a trojan that takes advantage of the .TIFF overflow, but the code it runs deletes key files in the PSP firmware that 'bricks' the PSP, basically you can turn the unit on and get a pretty black screen and that's about it. It looks like the 2.0 to 1.5 downgrader, but does all harm and no good. To me it all goes back to the old adage 'buyer beware', except we replace it for the new age with 'downloader beware'.

Most of the people that are downgrading their firmware know where to find the legit copy, I myself found mine through PSPUpdates, in my travels one of the best sources for PSP info out there. A smart gamer/geek is only going to download trusted code from a trusted site, and will be a little more than paranoid about anything else he/she downloads. The 13 year old greedy bastard on the other hand, who wants nothing more than to download pirated games on their spyware-laden Kazaa or some shit like that deserves to download the Brick trojan and ruin their precious 250 dollar bling (which, oh by the way, they didn't work for months to save for.)

It just seems like more and more the media tends to hype anything, but these days especially anything that says 'vulnerability', 'virus', 'trojan', or 'hacker' in it. Even if the story itself doesn't say that, if someone somewhere thinks that they can slip in one of those buzzwords they will.

And this guy agrees with me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

An Open Letter

Tim Buckley, who writes and draws one of my daily reads, Ctrl-Alt-Del, has an open letter about gamers and violent games. While specifically written to Jack Thompson, anyone who continues to march on with their drivel about banning games (the Nazi's banned things they deemed 'unsuitable' too, remember?) should read this comic.

Second Chinese Launch

China launched their second ever mission in space successfully today, the two rookie astronauts plan on spending 5 days in space, trumping the first mission in which one astronaut spend only 21 hours in space.

[Via the Register]

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Closer Look

I've mentioned NASA's ESAS plan in the past, those of you who are interested in space exploration may have heard about the plan in the media as the 'Return to the Moon', or seen it called 'Super Apollo' or 'Apollo II'. To be honest, this program really excites me, it's about time that we (as a nation) made a strong committment to return to exploring space, and not just the tiny fraction that we can see from Earth orbit. For those of you who didn't (or don't want to) download the rather jargon-heavy ESAS press kit, there's a pretty good article about it here. It doesnt gloss over the details like some of the newspaper reports do, but it's a bit easier to read than most of the 'official' publications.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Gadgetry

For those of you who don't know by now (our non-Tallahassee readers like my friends in Pensacola and West Palm Beach) my gadget collection grew by one member last week, I finally got my PSP.

We were actually pretty lucky. When I got it, I wanted to get at least one game. I got Burnout 3 for the PS2 about two months back and was really surprised, and when I heard they were going to make a PSP version (Burnout Legends) it was on my list of games I'd like to get. We went to Target to pick it up (the local Best Buy blows) and Legends was in a spot for a 39.99 game. Legends is less than a month old and a major label so it was acutally a 49.99 game. The guy admitted it was in the wrong place and usually they don't reduce it but he did anyway, probably because we were already buying the PSP itself.

[Update: It looks like JW is also playing Burnout]

So far I'm really impressed.

I've been watching the PSP crowd for a while now, I'd been interested in it since it was a prototype and Sony showed it at E3 and other tech/gaming conferences. I was pretty familiar with what I was getting in to because I read a bunch of reviews the day it came out in Japan and then later in the US. A few of the initial complaints, stuck or dead pixels on the LCD screen, enough flex in the frame that you could accidentally pop the back door and therefore eject the game while playing, etc, these have all been fixed by later revisions. I was waiting on these fixes to come through before I got mine. I'm not a 'gotta have it first' kinda guy, more like a 'gotta have it...eventually.'

Now almost a year since it's release (Nov of '04 for the Japanese market) and five million units shipped (including the recent 185,000 bought during it's first week in Europe) you can see that they have tightened it up a bit.

The basis of the PSP is the UMD...what Sony calls a Universal Media Disc, what I call a mini-dvd in a plastic caddy. It kinda keeps the disc from getting scratched or fingerprints from smearing on it, except for the little cut-out window where the laser actually reads it. Theres a little spring loaded door on the back that the disc gets inserted in, those of you familiar with Sony's MD players will recognize this as very similar in design. Initial versions had a smaller locking clip than the current version, and early buyers found that when they played a game with such zest as to flex the PSP a bit, the clip would slip a bit and the door would pop open. Since the UMD is spring-loaded it would pop out and fly at onlookers, fellow players, small birds, etc. Now there's a little mechanical 'indent' that keeps the game from totally ejecting, the clip was enlarged so that you really have to want to open the door, and much of the flex has been taken out of the frame.

The design is slick but I still have a few small complaints about it.

For a guy with big hands, it takes a while to get used to the layout of the buttons. The controls (a 4-button D-Pad on the left, and the familiar circle, square, triangle, and X buttons on the right) replicate the playstation and PS2 controllers, but the placement is wider because of the HUGE screen (you think the thing is portable, hence the last 'p' in the name, so you think the screen would be Gameboy small, but the screen is near 5 inches wide and takes up a good 80 percent of the face!) You have to arrange your fingers so that you both a.) support the 250 dollars (300 with a game, remember) of goodness in your hands, and b.) are able to play for a time without cramping your fingers. Sony doesnt make this easy because the faceplate itself is uber-glossy plastic, and the back is that familiar satin-felling ABS plastic that just about every other gadget ever made uses. The fingers you support it with kind of slip in the back. I fixed this by adding some black eGrip squares right about where my index or middle fingers touch on the back, and it has improved holding it (and therefore the confidence that I won't drop it during gameplay) by 100 percent.

My second big complaint is the faceplate itself. It's glassy smooth and shiny, a great effect when you see it, and it makes photos and video look awesome (a similar effect to the new 'TrueBrite' glossy LCD screens on Dell, Sony, and other laptops.) The biggest problem is that you basically have 15 square inches of surface that NOTHING can touch else you scratch it. Every finger print becomes a huge blemish, it's relatively soft so even rubbing it against your shirt (as I did the first day I had it to get the dust off it) will leave small scratches in it. I have a Sony Ericsson T616 cellphone, the faceplate of this is almost, if not exactly the same plastic, and so I am used to dealing with it, just on a smaller scale. I mean heck I paid 15 bucks when I got my glasses to put a hard, anti-scratch coating on them, if my optometrist can, why can't Sony?

To solve most of the problem, I bought a Logitech PlayGear Pocket case, it's pretty much a polycarbonate plastic case with black rubber bumper inserts in it that cusion and protect the PSP. What's cool is that you can remove the inserts and put like a 'skin' between the plastic and the rubber, personalizing your case a bit.

So far I'm really happy with it. The 2.0 firmware added the capability to have a custom background on instead of the monthly-color 'swooshy' backgrounds, which is cool because one of my favorite wallpaper sites now has images preformatted for it. It plays videos (albeit the pretty propreitary MP4 AVC format) in a pretty funky way, but there are lots of free indie apps out there that make conversion and copying easy. The selection of games is kind of limited right now, but so was the number of games when I first got the PS2. Now you can pickup halfway decent games for 10-15 bucks.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

GM Sells Fuji Heavy Industries stake to Toyota

So what does that mean?

Fuji Heavy Industries is the parent company of Subaru, a company which makes several cars I'd love to have.

GM owned a 20 percent stake of Fuji, and much of Subaru's technology made it's way into GM cars (the Saab 9-2x, sometimes called the Saabaru, is an Impreza wagon re-badged as a Saab.) GM is selling 8.7 percent of the stock to Toyota, giving them access to underutilized production facilites, mainly in the US. While I'm not a big fan of the uber-behemoth that GM is (afterall, they trashed Saturn when they made it a 'corporate' company) I am a Subaru fan and think they will do well now that they reigns are passed over to a company which seems to know a bit about management.

[Via Reuters]

Wednesday Wrap-up

My Five Cents:

So we get a new nickel next year, I like that they are finally being creative with the designs and finally getting away from the same stodgy profiles that we've seen for years. I think that the state quarters are a great idea, and think that the most recent redesign of the 20 dollar bill is a step in the right direction, though still not as creative as our counterparts across the ocean.

Lost in Space:

From the space corner, it seems like Discovery's foam loss on the STS-114 mission had nothing to do with the foam itself being bad, rather it came from mishandling. According to the AP, "Workers may have accidentally cut or crushed the section of foam that broke off Discovery's fuel tank" causing it to come off of the external tank within minutes of launch. Of course, knowing is half the battle and knowing it now allows them to fix it.

[Via the Orlando Sentinel]

Mike Griffin sat down with the USAToday a week ago and said the space shuttle was basically a "mistake." He also said if building the ISS had been up to him he wouldnt have approved it. After the outcry from the public, and even people within NASA itself, he released a memo that basically tried to mend the toes he'd stepped on, although it didn't do much...he'd already insulted most of the engineers and technicians that designed and built two very innovative projects. Today, USAToday released a transcript of the interview, showing that as usual the media can make things look a lot worse than they really are by taking things out of context.

Griffin says he wouldn't have built the space station the way it was presented, honestly as I go back and remember the whole debate the program itself seems kind of useless. The Soviets/Russians has a few Salyut space stations up in the 70's and 80's, and then put Mir up, giving cosomonauts and eventually astronauts from the US and other countries vital experience in long duration space flight. If we ever wanted to go to Mars, we'd need this kind of experience. Don't forget though (as most people do) that we had a space station up there before we'd ever thought of the ISS, Skylab, and we sent three different crews up to it. So why did we really need to build the ISS? Politics.

He also says the shuttle wasn't then and isn't now a really viable program. It was built to be a cheap way of getting cargo and personnel into space. It's never been cheap, and because of that became the mainstay of our manned space programs that effectively doomed exploration of space beyond Earth orbit. We could have gone to Mars in the 70's if we'd wanted to. The reason the Earth/Moon/Mars/Beyond (the President's 'vision' for space exploration) looks so much like Apollo is because the system works so well. By the end of Apollo program we could have fitted a Super-Saturn V with a long duration-adapted Apollo capsule and gone all they way. Why didn't we? Politics, yet again. Let the long term direction of a manned space program be decided by a president who has, at the outset 4 years, and at most 8 (and in the case of Nixon, only 5 years) and you'll get a short termed space program.