Monthly Archives: April 2008

Underwhelmed

Of all of the elections that have been held in recent years, the current Presidential election is the least impressive.

Why? Two reasons:

  1. The Democrats seem to be dragging their party and the country into the mire by their inability to settle on a candidate. This ongoing cat-fight must end.
  2. With a moderate Socialist, a Socialist, and a Hardline Socialist, the only real choice on the table is what brand of Socialism you prefer.

I think that the picture sums it up best:

If you vote for what you’ve always voted, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

Don’t blame me – I don’t get a vote; and if I did I don’t think I would know what to do with it.

Now Reading: Freakonomics, by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt

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The Quake of ’08

Last night there was an Earthquake that was felt throughout the Midwest. According to the newsies, it was measured at 5.2 on the Richter scale.

Naturally. I slept through it.

I vaguely remember thinking that a train was passing, though I was not awake enough to ponder the fact that no trains pass within a mile of our house. Milady remembers being awoken by someone shaking the bed.

This is nothing new; while tornados rampaged through town a couple of months ago, I was sleeping the sleep of the just. When Christ returns in glory, and raptures his church, we will be “Caught up in the air”… and I will probably be asleep.

I have one comment to make about all this:

In spite of the zillions of dollars – both public and private – that are spent on seismic / seismographic / seismological institutes, how is it that nobody saw this one coming?

Skinned Alive!

With my new iPod sitting in its box, I have been pondering the best way of protecting it from being marked, scratched, covered in fingerprints, or any of the other abrasions that real life inevitably bring. With that in mind, I have decided to purchase a protective skin for it.

Skins are sold by several different companies, and range in price from $7 to $25. I also gave some consideration to this interesting idea, but decided to give it a miss when I realized that it did not protect the sides. Shame.

I finally went with Best Skins Ever (who, unfortunately, share their initials with “mad cow disease”). Why?  Partly because at $5 to $7 per skin, they are the cheapest, but mostly because they got some excellent reviews. The price was so reasonable that I purchased extra skins for my wife’s Gen-1 Nano and my Sister-in-law’s Gen-2 Nano… all for less than the price of one skin from the competition.

The whole lot arrived fairly quickly – about three working days after ordering – in a postal envelope ith their logo on the front. On a somewhat hilarious note, their website notes that some people — wives, girlfriends etc. — have been known to assume the envelope contains something salacious and throw them away (well, what would you think if you saw an envelope emblazoned with the words “Best Skins Ever”?). Thankfully, that was not a problem for me.

The skins for the 5G iPod and the Gen-1 Nano each consisted of a front piece and a back piece (the  gen-2 Nano, because of its different shape, had one piece that wrapped around). With all three skins you had the option of a three-piece front (with a piece for the click-wheel and another for the center button) or a one-piece front. I opted for the three-piece fronts, as preferred having the option of leaving the click-wheel “naked” for greater sensitivity (oo-er).

One nice thing about Best Skins Ever is that they do not charge for shipping in the US – most of the products are shipped in a standard-sized envelope – and worldwide shipping is free on orders over $20.

So what, exactly is a skin? It’s a thin film of plastic, a little thicker than cling film, that sticks to the device like… well, a second skin. Once applied, the iPod can be cased or carried as normal, except that now it is effectively scratch-proof and will not attract fingerprints.

Application is a simple matter of peeling the skin off its backing and slapping it on…

…NOT!!!

Pause and rewind; application is a time-consuming process requiring much patience, and in my case, several attempts. After peeling the skin off its backing you have to soak it in water with a little hand soap or baby shampoo, then apply the skin. You have two enemies – dust and bubbles – so this process rarely goes right first time; I had to remove, re-soak and re-apply several times before I got the desired result.

Once it is in the right place, the next stage is to squeegee out the water using a credit card or something similar. This was the nerve-wracking part for me, as I worried about water getting into the iPod’s delicate innards and causing damage, so I quickly used a tissue to absorb the water.

The final stage is perhaps the most difficult of all – leave the sucker alone while the skin cures. BSE recommends twenty-four hours, which was difficult enough for me, and must be sheer hell for a kid or a teenager with a brand-new iPod…

Any road up, the curing process is  necessary. I found that all three iPods  looked 100% better after a couple of days, and keeps improving for about a week.

The overall appearance once skinned makes your iPod look like it has been covered in cling film or very thin shrinkwrap – the pictures show the final results. I am most pleased with the Gen-1 Nano on the left. My new 80GB looks good, but has some small bubbles that would not go away, and the front piece was not properly centered. The Gen-2 nano developed some “blistering” that looked downright ugly, but even that subsided with time, though it is still apparent at the time of writing.

Those cosmetic issues aside, the skins operate as expected, including, to my surprise, the click-wheels, which actually work better when skinned than when “naked”. Not only are the covered areas are well-protected against physical abrasion and scratches, but they also do not attract fingerprints, unlike the underlying iPods, which fingerprint horribly.

An added bonus is that the skins add a slight “grippiness” to the iPod’s surface, which is a boon if you have ever had a slippery iPod drop out of your hands.

One last comment: When my first attempt ended with less-than-impressive results, I asked BSE for help; to my surprise – and their credit – BSE sent me a replacement skin, which arrived less than a week later. Much kudos to them, along with my highest recommendation.

Movie Review: “Flushed Away”

I’ve been a fan of Aardman Films since “Creature Comforts”, a series of claymation “shorts” that were used as advertisements for the London Electricity Board many years ago. I was a little less keen on “Wallace and Gromit” – the tales of the eccentric inventor and his insightful and intelligent canine sidekick – but that has more to do with Wallace being a “Bloody Northerner” than any lack of entertainment value. In any case, their last two claymation films, “Chicken Run” and “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” both have pride of place in my collection.

Their latest offering, “Flushed Away”, is a major break with tradition. Although the trademark cheesy grins are still ubiquitous, there is no “clay” to be seen anywhere – the whole thing is done using Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) instead of the old-skool claymation that we all know and love.

The plot is both simple and labyrinthine. Roddy St. James (Hugh Jackman), an upper-class pet rat from Kensington, is flushed down the toilet into the underworld, where he finds a city inhabited by rats… and “The Toad” (Ian McKellen). “The Toad” has a hatred of rats, and is hatching a plot to wash the rats away during the World Cup Final (that’s Football – or Soccer, as the Americans insist on calling it). During the ensuing hilarity, Roddy meets Rita (Kate Winslet), the aforementioned Toad, along with his French cousin, Le Frog (shouldn’t that be La Frog?) and his henchfrogs.

Like “Chicken Run”, I suspect that this will have limited appeal to the American Market, partly because of the use of English accents and idioms which so confuse our Transatlantic cousins. I am not sure whether the inclusion of a couple of loud American tourists will help or hurt in this regard.

The quality of the CGI is good enough to suspend disbelief and simply enjoy the film. The voicing is very well done, particularly The Toad and Le Frog. Anything involving the henchfrogs (one of whom is a mime!) or the slugs (or are they leeches?) is hilarious. The level of detail is amazing – this is one of those movies where you have to stay alert – blink and you’ll miss something.

Favorite one-liners:

“Have you seen my Dad?” (It’ll be funny when you see it)

“Is it a bird?”
“Is it a Plane?”
“Is that guy wearing my underpants?”

“I believe he said his name was Millicent Bystander”

“Pardon me, my fly’s undone”

“Any last requests?”
“Yes. Could you fly quite suddenly off the boat screaming like a girl?”

“You are becoming what we French call Le Fruitcake

“You find my pain funny?”
“I find everyone’s pain funny but my own. I’m French!”

Le Frog: “Henchfrogs! We have a mission. Let nothing stand in our way. We leave immediately!”
Henchfrog: “What about Dinner?”
Le Frog: “We leave… in five hours.”

Le Frog: ok men, to action!”
Henchfrogs: “We Surrender!” (put hands up)
Le Frog: “No, not that one you idiots, the Kung-fu thing”

“These Brits don’t know the first thing about Football!”

“England is winning – anything’s possible!”

Verdict: Highly recommended.

Now Reading: C.S. Lewis: The Screwtape Letters

The new iPod Arrives

My trusty 4th-generation 40GB iPod, which I have had since last October, is on the verge of filling up. It is time to replace it with an 80GB model.

Progress is not always a good thing; the new 6th-generation iPod “Classic” has a sexy aluminum front, a slimmer body and a longer-lasting battery, but there were a few factors that made it not an option.

  1. First of all, it required iTunes 7.4+. According to Apple’s support peeps, it will not play at all with earlier versions – not even in some kind of reduced functionality mode. The problem is that 7.4 requires Windows XP; I am not willing to upgrade a desktop Operating System just so I could run the latest iPod.
  2. Secondly, I was not particularly fond of the new iPod GUI; I don’t care much for coverflow, and don’t like the new “two-lines-plus-cover-art” listing format.
  3. Finally, and most importantly, Apple redesigned the case for the sixth-gens so that they cannot be opened by anyone except Apple. This means that if your iPod fails outside of warranty you have no choice but to send it to them – and forget hacking it…

Thank you, but… no. Luckily, Apple is selling Refurbished 5.5G 80GB models on its website at a very decent price, and I bought one from them last week.

Some people have an aversion to refurbished items – often with good reason. However, Apple’s refurbished iPods come in retail packaging with a full one-year factory warranty. I ordered one a few days ago, and it just arrived. Opening the package it is indistinguishable from new.

Once it has been cased it will be ready for active duty.