Friday, February 20, 2009

Net. Book.

I guess I never noticed that a company called Psion ever made anything called a netbook in the 90's. The fact that they've issued Dell and others warning letters about that word that they trademarked in the 90's only makes me want to say three things.

1) Although I am familiar with laptops, tablet PC's, PDA's, the term 'netbook' only came into my usage in the last year - probably because of offerings from Asus, HP, and Acer and others trying to fit in the low-cost end of the computing spectrum. The word feels generic, eCost and other sales sites treat the word like it's generic, and everyone else gets that it's an interNET noteBOOK computer. I'm sure part of the reason that I'm unfamiliar with Psion's original netBook is because it was not that popular at the time, and the company is in the UK. As a matter of fact, the last time I touched something that that company made was probably the Chess game for the Timex Sinclair computer back in the mid 80's. Some of you may have phones with the Symbian OS on them, or some software written for that OS - but it would be hard to know that Psion had anything to do with it unless you spend your day picking through the fine print. The other reason you might be unfamiliar with Psion is that's it's been reorganized and spun apart a couple of times.

2) I'm surprised they haven't filed suit against Toyota for introducing the Scion brand of vehicles since it's pronounced the same.

3) Net Book. Netbook. Say it with me.

Netbook netbook netbook netbook notebook laptop desktop internet notebook netbook.

Klaatu barada netbook.
The NBC Nightly Netbook with David Brinkley.
You're watching the netbook channel.
All your netbooks are belong to us.

See? Perfectly generic.

We can't let people trademark stuff so easily. Sure, if it's a completely made up word like Narbacular, whoever made it can control it. Otherwise, Exxon is going to trademark the word 'biofuel' or 'gasohol' or 'corn' and the next thing you know, they'll have the Jolly Green Giant working at a truck stop fueling 18-wheelers because they own him anyway and it's more productive than him standing around in a field all day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mountain Dew and some reviews

I had to run to the store early Tuesday morning for milk. CVS had stuff on sale, I splurged and still made it out the door for under $10 - milk, some cereal with raisins, a 2-Liter of Coke for my wife, and a cold 20oz Mountain Dew Voltage.

Voltage now tastes a bit more like Game Fuel than it used to (although it could be argued that it was the closest to begin with), and the ginseng aftertaste has been toned down from what I remember when I tried this before. Why do I still know what Game Fuel tastes like? Because other MD aficionados have carefully horded some, and I managed to have a can of it just last week.

Also, I just got my son Super Mario Sunshine for GameCube (I assume, perhaps wrongly, that most of you know about Mario?) - I'd never played it, and I didn't even play Super Mario 64 (gasp!) but #1 son had been playing it at a local McDonald's that still had it set up on a kiosk. Julian said that the version we got was slightly different than the kiosk version - the kiosk version resets when you die and starts in a slightly different place, according to #1 son. As I recall, not everyone liked it when it came out, and I don't know why I passed on it at the time. I never got around to playing it, so I skipped from Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island on SNES straight to Super Mario Galaxy. Now that I'm playing Sunshine, I see a lot of things that they re-used for Galaxy. In fact, there are a lot of things in Galaxy that I like better. There are some places in the game where you can just walk around before picking a level to go to where there are almost no ways to lose lives, but plenty of places to practice some of the tricky jumps and hover maneuvers particular to this game. In the hub world in Super Mario Galaxy, about the only thing you can practice is one type of wall jump and (super-late spoiler alert) flying. There aren't too many open areas of ground in the Galaxy hub world so if you get too crazy, you fall off and get reset to the nearest platform. In general, I can only assume that this game was poorly received because it wasn't what fans of Super Mario 64 wanted to play, but I am finding it fun, and my son is enjoying it as well (even though he needs just a little bit of help on this one part... and then this part...).

The other thing that I picked up recently was Arcana Heart for PS2. (I got it as a small self-reward for finishing my taxes.) It's a fighting game full of Japanese schoolgirls with mystical powers associated with supernatural forces called Arcana. Again, I am late getting to this as it has been out for almost a year in America. The only thing that I can say about it is that it doesn't appear to have made any major errors that I can detect on a first playthrough. It's a 2-D fighter like the old Street Fighter games and Guilty Gear. The music is not as engaging as Guilty Gear's metal anthems, but nothing is so bad as to detract from the gameplay experience. Even using a cordless controller, the game is snappy and responsive. I had read other reviews complaining about how floaty it is, but since I get the idea that they are playing on rather large backgrounds and have figured out that you can press a button to dash over to where your opponent is rather quickly, it only feels floaty if you try to do jump-in attacks like it was Street Fighter. The controls are a little simpler with only three attack strengths and a special button, which is a big help in an unfamiliar game. Each character has some of their own special moves, and they get other special moves based on which Arcana they use so it is possible that the game could feel like there are 121 different characters. However, the game's storyline implies that certain characters are normally tied to particular Arcana. I guess I'll find out later if it's possible to play against the computer using a non-standard pairing of character and Arcana. This is likely to be the one of the last fighting games on the PS2 unless they decide to put out Arcana Heart 2 or another Guilty Gear on PS2, and it's a somewhat disappointing end to the PS2 in that regard. If you're a fighting game fan that has to play them all, it will be amusing for a time. If you're an anime fan that's all geeked out about the schoolgirl part, you might enjoy this game more than the fighting game aficionados.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A sample week of cubing in public

I really enjoy cubing in public. I don't just enjoy it for the occasional bonus, like a free hour of diagnostic time at the mechanic's shop, or the rare employee discount or free meal. Those are fun when I get them, but it's not really the reason. The reason I really like it is when I can give someone that moment where the light goes on in their head, and they get a glimpse of real understanding. That is not the universal reaction, however. A lot of the time it's just amazement or disbelief.

Let's compare a few scenarios. Last weekend at the fair I went to all of the usual vendors, and a few new ones. #1 son always likes to find one particular Ty (Beanie Baby) vendor at the fair because she's always got some that he didn't find elsewhere and he has a serious jones for stuffed animals. (They're so cute!) We have come by her booth at least the last four or five years. She remebers who we are because of the cube, even though she does dozens of fairs and shows a year. This year, she shows me off to the guys selling baseball memorabilia across from her. It's the standard bit where I hand them the solved cube, encourge them to mix it up, and I knock it down in about 40 seconds or so. They shake their heads in disbeleif and go back to their business. Later, I go look for one of the other booths by myself, and run across a local solar power vendor. I am interested and look over the booth, and I get the usual question.

"Have you ever gotten that thing?"

The guy in the next booth over starts watching and comments that he had solved the cube a couple of times, but didn't really know what he was doing. I explain a few more in-depth things that I don't normally bother with, like explaining the difference between an edge piece and a corner piece. These are guys that probably could solve it if they really wanted to, and perhaps I managed to turn some lights on in their heads. I tried to relate the edge and corner pieces of the cube to the perimeter pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Now the difference is that in a jigsaw puzzle, you can move all of the pieces independently, but at least they got the idea.

Thursday night out at a fundraiser, for the elementary school that #1 son goes to, I had the cube with me and managed to catch the eye of a couple of kids two tables over. Their older sister was unimpressed - as it turns out she could actually solve the cube, given a few minutes. I came over and sat at the end of the table for a few minutes and gave them a more though demonstration. I showed them the usual corners-first method that I do, and showed them what two-in-ones are (where you turn two adjacent faces in succession with a single hand motion). It felt like I was doing table magic, but without the intense pressure that comes with working closeup. I had nothing to conceal, and it was amazing all on its own. The youngest was a little older than #1 son, and #1 son came over to talk after a while, as the topic had turned away from the cube and over to school. After a little more chatting, and #2 son barrelling into the conversation, it turned out that the youngest kid had seen my wife and the kids walking to school a lot. So, we ended up turning the light on in a different way, by networking.

This past weekend at McDonalds, I sat between two groups of teenagers and #2 son took great delight in playing peekaboo with one of them. I'm not sure if #2 son was that hungry, though. After I finished eating, I went back to cubing, and got noticed. Oddly enough, the two guys behind us were semi-hanging out with a group of girls over on the other side. Once I had the guy's attention, they called the girls over. As usual, I hand off the solved cube to one of the girls to have them scramble it, so they don't think I've rigged it somehow. What is the greatest danger to solving a cube in McDonalds? French fry grease is. I still managed to solve it fast enough to be somewhat impressive, but I'm sure I could have done better. I lost control of the cube twice, but managed to reverse my mistakes quickly. Stage fright? Grease? All of the above? Maybe I'll have to film it sometime. Until then, I won't really know. Big thanks to Alex and Emily and their friends for indulging my crazy cubing skills.