Nerds of the Round Table

For all things good and nerdy

The Legacy of Jobs Being a Square

Steve Jobs had a sense of humor.  And if you have an iPhone, you look at it every day.  Ever wonder about the design of the home button?  It is a recessed circle with a square icon on it…

One of my favorite notions that he expressed is that people do not know what they really need until it is shown to them.  He meant to say that sometimes we work with a deficiency or handicap we don’t even realize until it is pointed out to us.  Out of habit, we can get used to compensating for a shortcoming in our position.  Or overcoming a hole in our lives never really seeing it is there…

Steve also believe that his products didn’t have to do everything.  As a matter of fact, he insisted that they should not do everything.  When they do something, they should do it simply and completely.  So rather than stretch his products to cover all possible options, he built a very solid square product…

So in honor of these two philosophies, Steve left a reminder in the design of the iPhone.  Every time you look at it, just remember that Steve solution is to put a square peg in a round hole.

And if you buy that I'll throw the Golden Gate in free.
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One Weekend Of Mario For One Year of Play

Mario Marathon 4 Is Under Way

They are back, again, for the fourth time.  A growing group of friends is going to play as many Mario game as humanly possible for your amusement…

MARIO MARATHON 4

For those of you not familiar with this group yet, these guys have web cams set up as well as a video feed in from their consoles so that we can watch them via uStream as they play through the levels of various Mario games new and old.  Why play Mario?  Because it is fun, that’s why.  Why share it?  The fun of video game is not to be kept to yourself.

Don’t think these guys are playing for no reason.  They have a very good reason to play: Child’s Play.  That’s right, the Penny Arcade charity.  Child’s Play supplies toys (including video games) to hospitals around the world.  As a charity, the gear their events and requests toward gamers.

If you have any question about how successful this event has become, go to the Child’s Play main page and scroll down to see the sponsors.  You won’t find them under Silver or even Gold sponsors, this event has reached Platinum Sponsor status.  Child’s Play even calls it out on their Events page.

So take a few minutes (or hours) to watch, listen, chat, and maybe even donate to keep them playing.

- Ferg

Occasional Blogger of Mediocre Recognition

ferg@nerdsoftheroundtable.com

Game Of Thrones Initial Opinion

I just happen to have HBO.  Not really by design, but it is part of a package deal that I get from Comcast for a manageable deal.

As such, I have had the pleasure of getting to see Game of Thrones, and I must say I am impressed in spite of a few flaws.  Over all, Game of Thrones is a strong series with plenty of grit and spirit to go for a few seasons.  Every character has a dark side, imperfections, and ambition.  “Good guy” is only a loose concept.  I am hesitant to say this with only 4 episodes out, but the flavor of drama reminds me of Battlestar Galactica.  In most cases, they do an excellent job of telling a story without explaining it to you.  It takes some intelligence and basic reasoning to really understand the show.  Every cast member brings their full strength to their character.  Even in the few episodes we have so far, you can already easily identify character growth and surprises.

Game of Thrones - The Iron Throne.  Forged by a dragon from the swords of the vanquished kings of old.

As for the flaws, and you might disagree with me on this, there are a few major ones.  The pacing of the story feels stuttered.  The amount of time that passes between scenes is irregular and often undefined.  For example, episode two actually spans around 2 months or so in story time: a trip from Winterfell to King’s Landing takes one month.  Some background information could be more easily spelled out, such as the fact that summer and winter are each several years (even decades) long.  Finally, and some guys will complain I bring this up, the nudity can get more distracting than proving a point.  I have no problem with topless women and my wife didn’t take issue with it, but if you are not expecting it (as we weren’t), then you are taken a little aback by the flaunting of boobs in several scenes.

Finally, if you are considering getting into the series or have already watched it up to date, you should check out HBO’s Viewer’s Guide.  You can download a PDF that contains all the house and lineage information, or you can view it online and get the addition of an interactive map, history, and supplemental information.  I didn’t find the guide until after the 4th episode, but it still helps understand all the organization and clears up a few details about the world’s history.  Read it online or download the PDF at http://www.hbo.com/#/game-of-thrones/inside/extras/extras/viewers-guide.html/.

Bottom Line: I will be going out of my way to catch each episode, but I probably will watch it on demand sometime in the week rather than nights.

- Ferg

Android Deployment Speed

Why is your Samsung still running Froyo?  Have they not upgraded your LG to 2.2?  Is it Google’s fault?

I have seen some talk and speculation about why Android handsets aren’t getting the latest build of Android, and tech journalists are doing a lot of complaining (at least the ones I listen to), but no one has a really good explanation…yet.

As of January 4th, this is the estimated distribution of Android Versions.

Not All Androids Are Equal

So what gives?  iOS phones are always up to date, why can’t Google keep up?  I strongly suspect that Google has no problem keeping up, but it is hard to stay standing when carriers and manufacturers insist on running you down with a freight train over and over.

When you “boot up” a phone, it flashed more than just the Google logos, it also shows the handset manufacturers logos and your carrier’s logos.  While adding images to a boot sequence is relatively simple, why stop there?  Since Google built this OS and allows for free and open use, manufacturers and carriers have taken this as a free lease to walk all over it.  The handset manufacturers get the first footprints in the Android code.

Some the major handset makers using Android right now have custom skins they build on top of Android: HTC’s Sense and Moterola’s MotoBlur.  These aren’t new operating systems, they are just additional applications, skins, icons, and tools added to the Android OS released by Google.  To be fair, these manufacturers build loyalty by making their phones identifiable to customers.  The use of a handset is an experience and customers should go out of their way to decide which manufacturers configuration best suits them.  So manufacturers want the version of Android on their phones to be as unique and identifiable as their other handset lines.

Once the manufacturer is done “improving” the phone, they are ready to market it to carriers.  Note that I said market, not sell.  Because carriers won’t buy a phone that doesn’t have their carrier specific logos and features.  Again, this is more than just adding a few image files, it might entail apps, stores, or even root level features that users can’t remove.  But it gets better.  The carrier isn’t going to install all this additional “functionality” on the phone themselves, they leave that to the manufacturer.  So one of two things likely happens here: Either the carrier takes the marketed phone and develops the additions and then ships them to the manufacturer for production; Or the carrier makes a list of requirements for the manufacturer to spend more time developing for the phone for production.

None of this work is free.  Well, Android is free, but the additions are not free.  Oh no, the manufacturers and carriers have to work out a reasonable price for the handset with Android and and manufacturer’s additions.  Then they have to contract the work to integrate the carrier’s additions, including the cost.  Finally, they have to come up with a total for the handsets because you don’t want to make more than you can sell, unsold handset means someone looses money.

But wait, deployment to existing handsets should be faster, right?  No, actually, it gets more complicated if the customer already owns the handset.  Since there is no hardware being sold, the manufacturer can’t recoup costs by overcharging for hardware, so they may ask the carrier to pick up the development costs.  Carriers don’t want to pay those costs because they can’t pass those charges on to you indiscriminately (thank you contracts!).  Once they do get cost worked out, they still have to deploy it: over the air or through a data connection.  I would guess a lot of handsets have never been connected to a PC, so over the air is the only way to do blanket deployment.

Unlike the simple process of installing apps, installing a new phone OS version is very complicated.  The download is larger, the process can erase data from the phone, and if something goes wrong in the middle – it will brick the phone.  In addition, from the time it starts until it is done, the handset is useless.  If I were CEO of a carrier, I would be very fearful about customer retribution if I authorized this process to happen on their phone without their permission.  In addition, if I gave all my customers the option to do it when it was convenient for them, I would be afraid they could bring down my network at peak load time.  Finally, carriers still have to figure out how to support the new and old versions of the OS at the same time.  After all, some customers will reject and optional upgrade, but all of them will need some kind of help at some point.

Apple doesn’t face this mess for one simple reason, they control the handset completely.  Their contracts with AT&T and Verizon say exactly what changes Apple will make for them on the iPhone.  Apple controls all the rest: hardware, OS, apps, feature, and even icons.  Their level of consistency almost makes it seem like they won part of the battle for the consumer against the carriers.  But one friend reminds me: “Any situation where Apple is the good guy is a very bad situation.”

CFL Safety and Disposal

The unthinkable happened. They told me they would outlive me, their light would go on forever. They lied…

A CFL (Compact Florescent Light) bulb burned out on me.

A variety floruscent light bulbs.

To be entirely fair, the bulb now rattles. It sounds like it is in the base which may mean that the connecting wire in the base burnt out. That isn’t very reassuring, but it means to me that the bulb itself would have still functioned.

So, my next step was to dispose of the bulb, but how? I know I cannot put it in the garbage. That is a really big no-no. CFLs contain mercury. Not very much (less than 4 milligrams), but it is mercury none the less. Most states have laws prohibiting the disposal of mercury in normal trash due to environmental impact. Like a diligent nerd, I checked out the packaging for the replacement bulb (Great Value brand) and was pleased to find a website: lamprecycle.org. The site is actually very handy, but not quite what I needed. In the lower left corner of their main page, they had an external link where I found my answers: earth911.com.

Earth911 is exactly what I need for all my disposal issues. Simply put in the separate search terms of what you want to get rid of and where it is located and let their database tell you how. They list drop-off, pick-up, and mail-in services. Some services will even send you a box for you to fill and send back. The services listed range from simple things like burned out CFLs to industrial pick-up like ezcyclebox.com. Note that the search results don’t specify if there will be a cost to the owner and NotRT and Earth911 are not responsible for any expenses incurred during recycling. It isn’t always free to be green.

So then I began thinking about broken bulbs. They contain mercury (the reason you can’t just put them in the trash), so why are they safe for my home. This time I went back to LampRecycle and found their Broken Bulbs Page. Now, I won’t go into all the details of dangers or cleaning, but I will say this: we survived decades with mercury thermometers in our lives and they contain a higher mercury poisoning risk then CFLs. Both LampRecycle and the EPA agree that there is no immediate danger to being in the same room as a broken CFL. If you do break a CFL and find this article in a panic, here are the basics:

  1. Open a window (regardless of the weather).
  2. Shut off any airflow systems (like central air or heat).
  3. Take your computer and exit the room and visit http://epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html

Well, I think that covers my CFL adventure today. For more reading, I have a list of off-site links for you:

  • http://lamprecycle.org/ – A great reference for some basic CFL ownership and usage information.
  • http://earth911.com/ – From CFLs to televisions and beyond, this is a great source to begin your search for recycling support. Just remember, not all recycling is free and call before you go.
  • http://epa.gov/cfl/ – The government also has a lot of CFL information, if you trust them.
  • http//energystar.supportportal.com/ – Contains some valuable information about why you might want to switch to a CFLs.

Stand and Deliver – from the Health Monitor

So I was stuck in the doctor’s office yesterday afternoon. I noticed one of those little health magazines they have around featured Admiral Adama on the cover. I read into it and it turns out that Diabetes is a serious condition in Edward James Olmos family. So much so that he his very active in the research for a cure.

Not exactly a major sci-fi read, but for those following the people behind your favorite characters, this is a good chance to see one aspect of his life.

Stand and Deliver – link to the Health Monitor

District 9 Abducts Theaters

Well, I have been to the theaters, I have paid to see it, and I am recommending you go see District 9, too. It is one of those movies that is so original that you cannot talk much about the style, story, or characters without talking spoilers. However, I do not expect you to go see it just on my word, so I will mention a few things that may tease you into spending your monthly movie money on this one.

First off, this is not the ET alien from your childhood. In case you couldn’t tell from the commercials, District 9 is a slum. It is full of weapons, violence, gangs, and all in full view of the cameras. There is also some graphic scenes and implications, so you may want to get a sitter for the younger children.

The characters are very interesting. One things to watch closely is where people are from the beginning through the end. By the end of the movie, you will notice a definite shift in characters or make some interesting realizations about people.

Finally, the plot is compelling. Without spelling the whole thing out, I would leave you with this thought. We are all raciest to some extent. Yes, I am saying that you and I and everyone else is a little racist. When you consider how violent some people are over the simple difference of skin color, then imagine how exponentially more prejudiced we would be against beings of an entirely different physiology. I think this movie provides an excellent glimpse at how we might act.

Oh, an a word of warning, any comments deemed to be of “spoiler content” are eligible for the labels of Spam and to be deleted upon discovery.

Oh, and FYI, I am pretty sure this is the Johannesburg where the movie is located: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Johannesburg&ll=-6.489983,26.71875&spn=100.888646,158.027344&t=h&z=3

Star Trek Drinking Games Just Got Better

Found a new toy that I want to get for my next drinking party. I am thinking any of the Next Generation movies and the rule is to drink for every “Number One” and “Captain” said in the movie. That should be sufficient to get everyone happy. All thanks to opening my drinks with the new Enterprise Bottle opener. It would sure do a better job than a phaser.

http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/kitchen/bd88/

I’m not one to advertise for other we sites, but this is just too cool to pass up. Beam me up a cold one, Scotty!

-Ferg

Cans of SPAM

Everyone has to deal with unwanted email messages. Often called SPAM, these messages can come from anyone and do nothing but pollute the internet communication system. At the time of writing this, I have about 500 SPAM messages in my work email and almost 300 in my personal account. And those numbers account for approximately two weeks. If you use that as an average across the whole year, I alone receive about 21,000 or more SPAM emails per year. Then you can begin adding in the things I get from misinformed people that I don’t move to my SPAM folders, Instant Messages, Twitter Messages, Facebook Messages, etc.

So the first thing you should know is how to spot SPAM. And the first thing to know about spotting SPAM is that is comes from all internet source. There are SPAM emails, SPAM websites, SPAM instant messages, SPAM Facebook/My Space/Twitter messages. Anything that can be used for person to person or person to group communications may be used to send SPAM. There are many different flavors of SPAM, here are the most common:

  • To good to be true (free money, give away for forwarding a message, etc)
  • Recycled Events (solar eclipse with the right day but wrong year)
  • Missing Person / Stranger Emergency (missing children and accident notifications)
  • Phishing Scams (I will send you money if you let me use your bank account to move funds from Nigeria to America).

Now, I know I have made some grievous accusations about give aways, fund raisers, events, and criminal investigations. A few of them are real, but many of them are SPAM. How can you tell the difference?

  1. Verify:
    Search the internet for others saying that it is true or not. If you are dealing with something like lost child Jim Smith, you can search for the words lost child Jim Smith spam
  2. Source:
    An alternative form of verification, you can go back to the source. For example, if you get an email about a metior shower in August of this year, you might double check it on nasa.gov
  3. Origin:
    Look at the person or group who sent it to you. If you have signed up for something like Amber Alerts via text message, you can be sure messages from them are not SPAM. However, if Jamie ForwardsALot sends you a message or it comes from a stranger, then you have pretty good odds that you are looking at SPAM.

Finally, if you have a message, but you don’t have time to verify or source it, DO NOT FORWARD IT. I cannot emphasize that enough. The message, assuming it is SPAM, has polluted the internet enough, so don’t contribute to the problem. And do not worry about it being an emergency. The authorities at all levels have many ways of broadcasting information, so email forwards do not often lead to valuable tips or assistance. And authorities may have to dedicate valuable resources to responding to people trying to be helpful in providing tips on a case that doesn’t exist!

-Ferg

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