Saturday, November 27, 2010

XBox Girls Get Revenge

And this is why I don’t play on XBL.

Turd Ferguson strikes again

According to this website, there are no less than 19 Turd Fergusons around the country. It is on the Internet, so it has to be true:



Minecraft: The Mall

My new project, glass domed park with four mall wings, three stories each, and a two-level train station. MCEdit schematics at

Friday, November 26, 2010

Make a perfect hollow sphere in Minecraft with MCEdit

(Many thanks to CJN85 for helping me with this)

Get MCEdit here. I am going to build a 21-block diameter hollow sphere. This method only works if the diameter is an odd-number.


1. Make a column, this one is 31 blocks tall.

2. The insertion point for your round brush, set to 21 blocks and with a different material than the column, is the next empty block above of the column.

3. Here's your 21-block solid sphere with its center one block above the original column.

4. I have extended the original column so it punches through the sphere. I also added two more columns through the centers so I have three columns that cross at the center of the sphere. This is why I picked an odd number for the diameter. These are also handy for moving it around later.

5. The center of the sphere, with the three columns touching.

6. I have deleted the center block and one above it.

7. This is the anchor point for my second sphere. Notice that the brush is now 19 instead of 21, which is the next smaller size. Also, I am using air for this brush.

8. My 21-block cobblestone sphere now has a 19-block air sphere inside, perfectly aligned. Notice each of the faces still show the rock columns.

9. The sphere, with the columns removed. I don’t recommend this since these are nice as guides if you are moving things around.

10. The inside of my sphere, with the columns removed.

The cool thing about this is that as long as you find the center of the first sphere, the second sphere, next odd number smaller, will make sure you get a perfect hollow shape. Since you have those nice columns protruding, it is very easy to pick half or a quadrant for cutting and pasting purposes. You could also use this to make cylinders, since all you have to do is cut one block above and bellow of one of the planes where two of the columns cross.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fun with macro

If you are having trouble with the flash overwhelming your macro shots, cut off the bottom of a Dixie cup and shoot through that. You will be shocked at the effect.

Here are a couple shots of PJ’s favorite train, which is also the most painful thing I have ever stepped on (protip: never walk barefoot in a house with a resident die-cast toy train addict):



These shots were taken in full automatic, handheld. The train’s face is about half an inch in diameter. The numeral 1 is about half an inch in height.

Four bars


The newest addition to my Minecraft map from hell are four Obsidian monoliths using the same proportions as the anomalies from 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: The Year We Made Contact. As I was finishing the third monolith I was wondering what to name the area. I was leaning towards two choices:

1. AT&T Plaza

2. The Arthur C. Clarke Memorial.

Alex Esoterica was quick to point out that it was no longer possible to call it AT&T Plaza because it already had three bars, which is unheard of in the AT&T network.

I guess I’ll be naming it the Arthur C. Clarke Memorial.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Here’s to you, Mister (nearly) blow-proof microwave cup cap inventor


Image by danielhedrick via Flickr

Almost everyone eventually buys some kind of food container that is designed to be heated in a microwave oven by first removing a metal cap, then placing a perforated plastic cap on top of the container. This is intended to allow the contents to boil up without blowing up the cap. This almost never works, which means you end up warming the item in phases to avoid it to blow up and splatter its contents all over your oven.

Some genius, which I simply can’t find so I can give him/her proper credit, figured out a way around this: I am seeing a new cap design in some 2-cup portion microwaveable soups that has pressure latches molded into the perforated plastic cap. This gives the cap a much better lock than simply snapping it into place. It is a beautifully implemented idea, and their only cost was probably having to retool the molds used to make the caps. There are no moving parts, there are no other changes needed for the packaging.

The problem is no longer the cap. Now the problem is that when you pull out the metal cap, the ring left on the cup is too weak and it gets deformed, which compromises the fit of the new perforated plastic cap. If you are not patient when you pull the metal cap, you will end up bending the ring, so you will either have to bend it back into its right shape, or risk your two cups of soup blowing all over your microwave.

This is almost sad, because to me the new design is such a triumph of engineering and simple ingenuity that the shitty design of the metal ring spoils it. Maybe somebody needs to find out if there is a better way to execute this kind of metal seal on these microwaveable cups.

Pushing paper fail update

Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Image via Wikipedia

I just received a birth certificate that I ordered back in June from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It took these paper pushers five months to laser print and stamp a piece of paper. They still owe me one for Ivette, I am convinced they will never send it.

Worse, I was able to get the same piece of paper through their “expedited” service. That only took about three months for a ton of money more.

Fail: I was able to file and receive a brand spanking new US Passport in a little over 5 weeks and without paying for any kind of expedited service.  I filled my application online, downloaded it as a PDF, printed it, took it to the local post office, they took my photo and collected the fee. 5 weeks later I had a passport book,  a passport card and they even returned my original documents. 

I don’t understand how it is possible for a government under US jurisdiction to perform at levels only expected in third world countries. It is simply horrible that it takes five months to receive and process an electronic order for a piece of paper with maybe 1 KB of data into it. The piece of paper isn’t special beyond it’s anti-counterfeiting measures. They can’t use manning levels as an excuse, they knew at least a year ahead of time that the certificates would expire and pretty much everyone would ask for a new one.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I guess it’s that time of the year again

I had to go to my local (suspected) nazi war criminal practitioner of the dentistry arts to subject myself to a periodic lecture, torture session and tooth extraction. Lucky me, Dr. Szell was busy (and I joke, I love him to death, but 99% of our encounters involve a lot of pain, so I always relate our interactions to Dr. Szell in The Marathon Man asking Dustin Hoffman if “is it safe?”), so one of his associates took care of me. No lecture, no torture session, the man has the hands of a saint.

On my way out, I saw this:

Not what you want to see after having a tooth extracted.

Not exactly what you want to see right after a tooth extraction.



Sunday, November 14, 2010

Web Designers vs. Web Developers

From :

free website builder

Yup, it seems I picked the right side.

Amazon disrupts the bang for the buck ratios for Xbox 360 games

Punga seed trip

Image by pvera via Flickr

I have a very simple rule for video games: I need to get no worse than $2/hour of entertainment. Above that, it is approaching the cost of a matinee movie ticket around here, which is already too expensive. What this usually means is that regular releases at the $60 mark need to give me absolutely no less than 30 hours of entertainment. Any game that does better than that, especially if it hits the $1/hour mark, is a complete success.

I have games I have put 100s of hours into:

  • Fallout 3
  • Fable 2
  • Oblivion
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Saint’s Row 2
  • Forza Motorsport 2 and 3
  • Tiger Woods 2007
  • The Orange Box
  • Dead Rising
  • Borderlands

Those games are the keepers, you just leave them around because in a worst case scenario of boredom you can pick one up and replay it once a year or so.

30-hour games are different. At that mark, either I have played through twice, or I played through once and there’s no incentive to go back even to finish the achievements. I kept those around since Alex Esoterica used to swap games with me and I thought it was nice to do that kind of favor to somebody else.

Then Amazon showed up.

When Red Dead Redemption came out, I was bored right as I finished the first play through, which took me very little time. Amazon was too happy to offer me $40 for the game, and shipping it to them was free. $60 game, I put about 20-30 hours into it, then recovered $40, that’s 30 hours for $20 on a game that was OK but was not great. The $40 are issued as an Amazon credit, which is as good as cash if you like to preorder games.

Also, preordering games on Amazon usually involves some kind of bribe in the $10-$20 range. Crackdown 2 was a piece of shit, but Amazon gave me a bribe for preordering it, and paid me $31.25 to return the game. Oh yes, and I used the $40 from returning Red Dead Redemption.

Fable 3 was not a piece of shit, but Amazon once again tempted me to return it at the 30-hour mark for $32.25 and the preorder involved a bribe for $20.

The problem now is that I am being spoiled by both ridiculously long games like the Fallout series (still haven’t bought Fallout: New Vegas) and by over-generous trade-in values from Amazon, which makes me spend too damn long trying to figure out what to play next. For example, I was ready to discount Call of Duty: Black Ops because I simply won’t touch the multiplayer mode, and the single player campaigns are short. But it is a hell of a lot harder to say no if I can count on putting at least 30 hours into the single user campaign and still manage to return it to Amazon for $30 or so. One thing is for sure: it kills any motivation to ever pick up a game at a retail store.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This is how you dilute a good brand

Try to lose this one

Image by pvera via Flickr


Ages ago I had so much crap connected to my TV that it was an ordeal to find the right remotes and click on the right buttons in the right order just to say, watch TV or play Xbox 360. I picked up a Logitech Harmony 510 (middle remote in picture) for about $80, and after maybe 10-15 minutes of setup I was able to switch between modes with just one button. One button would switch the TV Input, turn on the right device, etc. The only device that never played along with this was the AppleTV, everything else I tried worked beautifully.

That remote was great because it was simple. The device was simple, setup was fantastic, you simply specified the model number of your TV and whatever else you have and it did the rest. If it couldn’t do it automatically, it walked you through every possible option. 

The Harmony lived a long and illustrious life, but its USB port died, and there is no way to program one of these except through the USB port. Alex Esoterica pointed out that the Logitech Harmony 300 was on sale for $20, but no screen. I passed.

Weeks later and simply couldn’t stand anymore not being able to use my PVR (I am using PJs monster remote, left remote in the picture), so I bit the bullet and picked up a Logitech Harmony 300. For $10 more than when Alex warned me about it, dammit.

And it gets worse.

Setup: there’s no CD. There is no download installer. You go to a website, which prompts you to install something. That is, if you have the right browser. It took me three tries.

Then it got past worse: they use a content delivery network for the installer, and the routing was dying somewhere along the way. I had the crazy idea of connecting to the corporate VPN and seeing if they resolved to a different IP in the CDN, and to my delight, it did. Hardcoded that IP into my hosts file and the installer finished.

Once I did that, it sort of worked like the 510 desktop setup app. But I don’t see how many people will realize why the installer can’t finish (there’s no feedback that it can’t connect to the server) so most people will either return it to the store or try to contact support, which will probably waste their time for half an hour before telling them to return it to the store.

As for value for my $30, it is obviously made of cheaper plastic, and it doesn’t have a display. At least it has IR transceivers on both ends, which is very nice. And full programmable control for four devices is even nicer.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Turd Ferguson Strikes Again


This is why people get anxious about UPS


The damn box has been on the road for FIVE frickin days with no updates. I am expected to believe that a UPS drone picked it up at my local UPS store and it was swallowed by a special quantum teleportation device that spit it back out in Florida 5 days layer. Which is funny since their tracking/notifications engine is called QUANTUM. Seriously, UPS?

What is worse is that the way that UPS charges for shipping, they had been too happy to offer me next day delivery for about 50% of the cost of the shipped goods.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Stanford Students Design Recyclable Laptop with Autodesk Inventor Software


The main reason laptops are a bitch to tear apart is that laptop case design falls along two very common groups:

  1. The laptop has to look pretty (the Apple school of design), which means exotic manufacture processes that may make it very hard to design it for ease of tear down.
  2. The laptop has to sell really cheap (the ultra super mass produced generic design laptop), which means very common manufacture processes and parts designed to assemble easily. This means lots of plastic tabs and funny plastic overlays that you can break.

Almost every laptop that you will run into will neatly fit into one of these two groups. The industry knows this, which is why any laptop sold with more than two USB plugs will have more ad copy dedicated to brag about ports than about performance. ExpressCard slots were expected to be the fix to the lack of expandability, but the problem is the cards are expensive when compared with their desktop counterparts. And now most new laptops sell with some kind of built-in memory card reader, in part to free up the ExpressCard slot, but mostly to brag that there is one dongle less for you to carry with your laptop. My current Dell and Ivette’s Toshiba both shipped with SD slots, which is really nice.

It would be nice if the industry could at least make the GPUs and hard drives standard modular enclosures that can be replaced no differently than the current process to switch a couple of sticks of RAM. I should be able to unscrew a lid, maybe an extra screw and that should be enough to let me pull the drive out. Drives themselves are heavily standardized, so I don’t understand why we have to lock them into place. GPUs are much harder to deal with because of the heat management issues, but I am sure that some clever graduate student can figure out how to turn the whole GPU mess into a fixed heat enclosure slot and a removable card.

The real clever thing with the Stanford design is how they let you pull the whole keyboard and pad off the machine to use it wirelessly. RF wireless keyboards sell for under $50, which means that at the right mass volumes it is possible to build such a device for a laptop computer. It wouldn’t work for me because I am a pig, and I rely on the availability of < $50 wireless keyboard+mice combos to offset for my clumsiness. I call it a good year when a keyboard/mouse combo lasts me more than 6 months. My current combo was replaced in May, and it is about to die right on schedule. The way I see it, every time I ruin one of those is a missed opportunity to spill something into a $2000 Dell laptop.

And yes, I have lost laptops to fluid spills in the past. I ruined a brand new 15” Aluminum Powerbook G4 thanks to a coffee spill at work, and PJ poured (not spilled) a can of Coca Cola into my white 12” iBook just weeks after I moved to a 15” Titanium Powerbook. After the second dead laptop I have tried to not use the laptop keyboard while working from home, which is much easier now that I have two external monitors and a docking station.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Minecraft: Rail network update


Lots of changes to the rail network, many in part to my sudden discovery of TNT mining in minecraft. There’s enough to justify expanding the first train station, plus almost all of the main lines are now run through tunnels instead of through the elevated walkways. This is also the first time I try to run a line all the way to the bottom of the map, which also reminded me what happens when you try to step off a mine cart with less than two blocks of clearance above (don’t try it). Now that I have a decent transportation network I can start planning on heavier development of the wide open areas on the west side of my map.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

To Cheat or Not to Cheat (in Minecraft)?

From: To Cheat or Not to Cheat? | CraftHub


This is an argument I have been having with Alex Esoterica for over a week: what constitutes cheating in Minecraft?

I wasted a lot of time mining for resources, which after a while it simply becomes annoying. If you are playing in peace mode, and you are playing offline, and the game doesn’t have a goal, or any kind of achievements, then who cares? The whole idea is to have fun!

The picture above is my first train central, which already has 6 out of its 8 rail lines up and running. Had I tried to do this by mining for coal/lava and hauling sand, it would easily take me an extra week that I simply don’t have. Using an inventory editor means I can concentrate in CREATING things in Minecraft, which is what appeals to me so much about this game. Except for using the inventory editor, I am playing the game as is except for two mods: better grass, and hacked trains.

The better grass thing is simply aesthetical. As for the trains, I mastered the use of train boosters, but these are problematic because they take up too much space, and you can screw up if your timing isn’t right. With the train hack, I can place a cart and go wherever I want to go,  regardless of elevation or distance (the mod basically removes the friction and gravity penalties to carts).

What you can’t see from the picture is the endless miles of elevated walkways that I built the hard way, which took me months to complete. There is absolutely no different in the sense of achievement that I got from the parts I build with mined materials, and the parts I built with material retrieved through the inventory editor. None.

The way I see it, if there is no scoring, or end game goal, or competitive element against other live players, then there is no cheating. Using Minecraft with an inventory editor is like playing with legos when you have an unlimited supply.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ducati Builds a Devil of a V-Max

From: Ducati Builds a Devil of a V-Max | Autopia |

This one is for Karla:



Episode 1 - Mongo DB Is Web Scale


… and this is why people that write code for a living can’t stand posseurs spewing out nonsense about the next great web technology out there.

Thanks to @morgajel for finding this video.

Has Christopher Nolan Turned the 3D Argument?

Fire hazard

Image by pvera via Flickr

From: Slashdot Entertainment Story | Has Christopher Nolan Turned the 3D Argument?

This is actually a big deal because 3D was seen as the technology that would light a fire under people’s asses and force them into prematurely upgrading all of those HDTVs and Blu Ray players that were purchased during the analog TV phase-out. The problem here is that the powers-that-be had a great sales tool (the digital switchover) but that now is officially over. So how the hell do they get people to buy more TVs if almost everyone has a new TV?

Easy, convince them of the next must have technology. In this case, 3D.

The problem is that 3D is nowhere close to a must have technology. Most of the people really couldn’t give a shit about it, at well not enough to tempt them into ditching their brand new TVs.

Some movie studios went a bit batshit over the whole 3D deal because they thought they could keep driving people to the theaters, and to buy more TVs and Blu Ray discs, and that costs money. So when the next Batman was announced, the release was structured like this:

1. Hi, the next Batman is going to be named so and so.

2. The next Batman will NOT be 3D.

I thought it was funny that they went out of their way to state that they were not going to be part of this mess, but it makes sense. 3D is still a novelty, and Nolan wanted nothing to do with it.

Where’s the common sense?


I am watching this really good (as in “Brilliant yet Cancelled”) show called Persons Unknown. Probably knowing that the show got canned is making me take a more critical look on the show, or maybe it is just annoying me.

One of the things that bugs me is that the writers seem to be really good, but they keep falling short on the simple things, like for example things that would fall under common sense.

For example: two people are in an apartment, two more people are pointing guns at them. One of the gunmen screws up (perfectly acceptable, they are after all criminals, and obviously not smart enough to “manage” crime instead of dealing with it hands on) and one of the victims manages to overpower one of the gunmen. The second victim uses this distraction to overpower the second one and right at the same time, a Deus Ex Machina: a third party walks in, with a gun, and ends the confrontation.

What annoyed me is that when victim #1 whacked gunman #1 and almost split his skull, she didn’t take an extra second to grab his gun, hopefully to use it on the second gunman, but also useful in case gunman #1 was not completely out of commission. Or at least take the damn bullets!