Love it or leave it

It was very interesting to see the Canadian media’s reaction to Neil Young’s comments about the tar sands. Was he right, does Fort McMurray look like Hiroshima?

Strangely, you can find out for yourself by dropping a virtual bomb on the tar sands using Nuke Map. Go to “57.02°N 111.65°W”, switch to Satellite view, select “Little Boy” and hit the Detonate button.

If you don’t have the patience, here’s the spoiler: It looks like you need to drop at least 15 nukes to match the size of the tar sands – or just 1 Dong Feng-5, China’s current intercontinental ballistic missile.

problems and solutions

Last Words to an America in Decline – Ernest Callenbach

We live, then, in a dark time here on our tiny precious planet. Ecological devastation, political and economic collapse, irreconcilable ideological and religious conflict, poverty, famine: the end of the overshoot of cheap-oil-based consumer capitalist expansionism.

I love spending time reading, thinking and bending ears about the clusterfuck we’ve gotten ourselves into. But lately I’ve been thinking the rewards in saying “I told you so” might not me worth the time and effort. The people I admire the most lately would also agree with Ernest Callenbach, but are too busy solving these problems to have read the article.

Coming back to North America has been equal parts inpsiring and depressing. I get overwhelmed with all the problems, but amazed at the solutions. To quote Neil Young: I have hope, but you can’t eat hope.

Triangle Waves and Earthquakes

After a few days of frustration, I’ve finally made some progress on my next big project. The used oscilloscope I picked up for cheap (cheaper than any new handheld) has been infinitely useful. The industrial solder fume extractor (Weller wfe2p) I picked up for $130 still needs to be hooked up though. I’ve also been trying to get through Art of Electronics and it’s student manual.

A few months ago Kerei Tia Toa, a Māori Elder shared a vision he had of Wellington destroyed by earthquake and tsunami. It’s strange to say, but both Mel and increasingly felt an unease living there. The fact that we were living on borrowed time was palpable and the feeling only went away once we decided to leave in December (canceling our tentative plan to visit Christchurch in February). The Christchurch earthquake last month was really hard to watch. Since New Zealand is very small and Rhys Darby isn’t joking when he says that there’s only 2 degrees of separation between anyone in the country. A friend of mine lost someone he knew in the earthquake, and I’m sure everyone there has been affected somehow. The 8.9 earthquake in Japan yesterday caused a tsunami warning in New Zealand, only a month after the Wellington Emergency Office marked off Tsunami Safe Zones in the city.

Neil Young is coming to the Fox Theatre in Detroit in May and it looks like it’s going to be a continuation of the Twisted Road tour. When Neil came to Auckland, I put aside for future concerts the $400 it would have cost us to go. So I was able to get us awesome tickets for the Fox Theatre show, bring my dad and still have half the money to spare (possibly for Bridge School Benefit this summer?). I’d love to see him play Peaceful Valley Boulevard, easily one of my favourite songs right now. “Before the West was won, there was a cost”

Sennheiser Responds to Hack, and Apple is still a steaming pile of evil.

Seems like the Sennheiser Hack went viral, with nearly a million visitors in a few days which is very cool. The oddest mention was on G4TV’s The Daily Feed, complete with eyecandy and canned laugh-track.

Anne Joyce, the Director of Marketing at Sennheiser Canada emailed me to say:

[…]we’d like to share with you that there are other factors such as varied kinds and qualities of materials, different processes, as well as design and finish differences to separate these two products and their intended sound images.

Indeed, both the HD 555 and HD 595 share a similar platform. The HD 555 provides a spatial sound field while the HD 595 with its exceptional clarity and musicality, has been positioned for the audiophile target audience.

However, do note that our product prices are based on the values they provide to their specific customers, and not just on the costs to produce them. This is common practice amongst manufacturers to serve different customers and their differing requirements.

They do admit that the differences are essentially aesthetic (the materials difference are in the headband and earcup covering), and I really have to applaud Sennheiser here. Instead of the Marketing Department emailing me, this could have easily been their Legal Team trying to demand that I take down the page (it’s already been mirrored, sorry guys). Heck, seeing where the internet is going these days, the whole website could have just been Seized by the US Government on their behalf under the guise of some copyright bullshit.

Fuck Apple

Unfortunately the news of Apple releasing a new iPad didn’t escape me. Big surprise: it’s thinner and has cameras. If you’re actually surprised, look inside a first generation iPad; there’s almost enough room in there to stuff my OM-1. Seriously though, for the people considering boycotting Sennheiser because of the headphone mod I posted, Apple is far more worthy of a critical look. This is a company that uses environmental guilt to sell products while at the same time purposely holding back key features for future products and promoting the concept of endless upgrades at a faster pace than any other company. Chinese factory workers pushed to suicide to make gadgets designed to be lust objects for the modern hipster, but only for 12 months.

You’re not giving your money to some turtleneck guy in jeans that looks the cool you wish to be, you’re giving your money to a board room full of people that look like your Manager’s Manager. And they decided several years ago that the first generation iPad will be slightly thicker and not have a camera just so they’ll have something for you to buy again in a year.

These Apple products are becoming increasingly “closed” now that they control the only store you can buy content from, whether it’s music, books, apps, videos, etc. Considering the news that the first iPad only “newspaper” has decided to focus on stories about dogs instead of Egypt, the implications are pretty obvious.

Essex County Turbines and Jeopardy Computers

Yesterday, I went to London Ontario for a record show with Mel, John and Tim. It was the first time I got to check out the area since I’ve been back in the country and the drive down highway 2 was very beautiful as always. The first thing I noticed was that there are now hundreds of very large wind turbines out in Essex county, and that a lot of farmers now have very large solar panels on their property. 3 years ago, there wasn’t a single wind turbine or solar panel to be seen. Seems like there’s finally some money to be made with alternative energy.

Jennings and the Machine

I admit that I bought into the hype of the whole “Watson” thing and watched Jeopardy tonight. Having watched Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine last year, I couldn’t help being skeptical. One thing that got me was that the jeopardy playing IBM computer receives the questions as text at the time they are revealed to the contestants. The problem here is that even a regular desktop computer can parse and analyze plain text instantly, whereas a regular human takes about 4-5 seconds to read an entire Jeopardy question. This means that Watson is in full processing mode instantly while the human contestants are still reading along with Trebeck. I think the concept is neat, but I think the computer contestant should be forced to use speech recognition, to avoid the very unfair advantage of being able to begin searching for answers before the other contestants have finished reading the first word of the question.

I also think the nature of having to “buzz in” to answer a question means that a computer will always win this reaction game, so the only question the human contestant will be able to answer is one that Watson calculates wrongly or fails to reach a sufficient confidence level on. Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that the whole thing is functioning as a paid advertisement for IBM. It was at least nice to see IBM tweak Watson after the first commercial break to be less dominating and I expect them to keep the game close. I’m also expecting IBM to be using this to soon launch some sort of “Powered by Watson technology” free-text query answering service. Either way, it seems like the 2002 remake of The Time Machine might have gotten it right with the Holographic librarian at the New York Library. Depressing.