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Archive April 2004
Sunday 25 April 2004
And in somewhat opposition to my previous post - a review of the Total Gym 1000.

Why would I have such a thing? Having been vaguely intending to exercise for months, and not doing because exercise is boring and largely ineffective (sit-ups and push-ups can be repeatedly done to my limit with no tangible improvement over several weeks, and running is unbearably dull, uncomfortable and weather-prone), some form of more interesting exercise seemed in order. Considerations were a treadmill (since running while watching TV indoors would be less crap than running while watching boring scenery go past with the sun in your eyes, and wouldn't require putting on shoes), a rowing machine (on much the same basis) or some sort of multi-wossname device such as a Total Gym, Bowflex, or Weider Crossbow as the ones that I was aware of. Ab-swings and ridiculous things of that nature were not a consideration, because they're stupid and even their ads pretty much say "this is a completely ineffective form of exercise". And exercising only abs seems an especially stupid idea, too. Who wants a normal body with huge bulging abs? Unless you're wearing a crop-top or no shirt it'd just look like a beer belly. And even if the bulgy scary abs were showing they'd still look disgusting and out of place, like someone had photoshopped Schwarzenegger's neck onto the middle of your body.

Price comparisons of the various devices suggested that treadmills and rowing machines weren't really any cheaper than the more versatile devices. I was favouring Bowflex, since one of those appears in a Jackie Chan movie, so they must be good. Reviews, however, suggested that the Crossbow is essentially the same as the Bowflex, slightly better, and quite a lot cheaper. Some prodding around revealed the pointlessness of this initial research, since neither the Bowflex nor Crossbow were available in Australia at all, and there was approximately no hope of shipping them from elsewhere.

So, this leaves us with the Total Gym, with the rather less resounding endorsement of Chuck Norris, in the advertisement which is on at three in the morning every morning on every channel in every country. Online reviews of this suggested that it's not as good as the others, but those reviewers did helpfully qualify their statement - it's not as good for body-building. They suggested it's probably quite good for muscle-tone and general fitness, which is more what was wanted anyway.

As an added bonus, it was also available in Australia, and, for super bonus points, its base price was cheaper than any of the other considered devices. Clinching the deal, there were also several available on ebay, making it cheaper still. So, after a bit of ebay faffing, a Total Gym 1000 was acquired. Then the question - is it any good?

It's pretty much ideal. I'm glad there weren't any Bowflexes or Weider Crossbows available, since if there had been I might have got one of those, and for our purposes they wouldn't have been as good. Why not? Because the Total Gym isn't boring. It's like being on a slide whenever you exercise. You can be exercising your shoulders and going "whee!" at the same time. And then exercising your thighs and going "whee!" again. And watching TV. Some of the exercises you can even read while doing. And still going "whee!"

Some of the exercises in the book and on the website are a bit silly and contrived, such as "do sit-ups - but on a bit of a slope!" or "twist your sides a bit - while lying on the machine!" but most of them are quite sensible, and there's a decent range of muscle targetting. I can very much see that it wouldn't be a good thing for body-builders - I can do ten repetitions of most exercises on the second-highest setting, so presumably a strong person can do a kajillion of anything on the hardest setting. On the other hand, strong people will also weigh more than me, which would maybe make it only half a kajillion, since the lifted weight is dependent upon the weight of the user.

In conclusion, I very much recommend the device for anyone who wants to exercise, is lazy, hates going outside, and likes going "whee!". So, er, us. And presumably Chuck Norris. [19:17] [25 comments]

Friday 23 April 2004
Zen-like observation for the day: it's very easy to save if one wants only things that are beyond one's means.

It's similar to that whole standard Buddhist-flavoured enlightenment of ridding yourself of all desires, but much much easier. [20:00] [7 comments]

Thursday 22 April 2004
Today's archery was instructional, and the instructions were twofold: "don't buy arrows from that shop again" and "examine purchased arrows to see if they're the same".

Last time out I was a bit inept, having forgotten how to do everything after a long "weather is too hot" hiatus. Two shots in every six were missing the target completely, until one of the arrows broke, after which it was mostly one shot missing and only occasionally two.

This time out, I was much less inept, having remembered most of the forgotten things by the end of last time. This time, one shot in every six was missing, all the rest were fine, and I was pretty sure I wasn't doing anything wrong. This time, after three rounds of that, I decided to mark the 'miss' arrow to see if it was always the same one. While marking it, the marking rendered itself unnecessary, as I noticed the head of the arrow was fatter than the head of an arrow in my other hand. Or I thought it was, anyway - some experimenting with careful balancing, and eventually a blind test (put one arrow in each hand, and I say which one feels heavier) confirmed that the 'bad' arrow had a much heavier head than the rest. Switching it out for one of the spares resulted in no more misses for the rest of the shoot.

However! In the process of switching for another arrow, I noticed something else. The six arrows I was using had three distinct different head types, in addition to the heavy one I'd removed from play. I only bought twelve arrows, all at once, all from the same shop, with the same shaft type, length, and fletching - surely it should be assumed that I want them all to have the same heads? Presumably I would now be shooting more reliably if I weren't (still) using three different types of arrows whose trajectory behaviours will be distinct.

So that's not very pleasing, arrows not being cheap. But at least it means my horrible shooting last time wasn't actually me shooting (quite so) horribly. Good discovery, bad that it was there to be discovered. [18:40] [5 comments]

Wednesday 21 April 2004
Tsk. A laptop component dies. The video chip cooling fan, specifically. According to conversation in the Dell forums, Dell won't sell the part, instead insisting that one purchase a whole new graphics chip. One Dell person said in the forum that "any fan will do", which I'm pretty sure is a lie, since, to take an example at random, the fan in my desktop machine is thicker than the entire laptop, and a full-sized office pedestal fan is significantly larger. I couldn't, in fact, find anyone citing a fan that would function as an alternative to "MOTHR-1024-C" or possibly "SUNON GM0503PEB1-8" or maybe neither of those, since I wasn't able to get any sort of firm part number or description or anything, and I think those two are CPU fans for various Inspirons, not GPU fans. Perhaps I'm going to have to open the machine up just to find out what the part is that I need.

There were also lots of links, including Dell's own site-search, which, when being supposed to go to an Inspiron 8500 service manual, went to a very helpful page which informed me that "the page you requested is not available".

Outside of the Dell site, I at least found instructions which should be adequate for the required operation, as they Upgrade the Video Card on an Inspiron 8500/8600. I suppose there's also a possibility that I don't even need a replacement part - I might just need to clean out the fan, or re-connect it. It'd be nice if it were that easy.

If I disappear for a thousand years, you'll know why. A magical curse, or nuclear vaporisation. [15:59] [17 comments]

Monday 19 April 2004
That's the best Paypal-password-theft spam ever!
Dear (proper paypal email address),

We recently reviewed your account, and suspect that your PayPal account may have been accessed by an unauthorized third party. Protecting the security of your account and of the PayPal network is our primary concern. Therefore, as a preventative measure, we have temporarily limited access to sensitive PayPal account features.
Click below in order to regain access to your account:

For more information about how to protect your account, please visit PayPal's Security Center, accessible via the "Security Center" link located at the bottom of each page of the PayPal website.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and appreciate your assistance in helping us maintain the integrity of the entire PayPal system. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

The PayPal Team

Please do not reply to this e-mail. Mail sent to this address cannot be answered. For assistance, log in to your PayPal account and choose the "Help" link in the header of any page.

PayPal Email ID PP198
PayPal Email ID PP316
Note, the link there is safe to look at (open it in a new window, it'll go all full screen and annoying) to poke at and see what fantastic trickery is afoot, but please close the window immediately afterwards, and really really don't put your Paypal password in there. For the less technical reader, the most pertinent thing to note about the trickery is that the address bar you see is not your address bar. Also, it may be slow since the site is probably busily fooling thousands of people - the spam was only received about thirty minutes ago. [05:48] [5 comments]

Thursday 15 April 2004
Mmmm, orange juice.

For a bit of a change, I thought I'd review an everyday substance, because, well, I haven't done anything interesting recently and orange juice is nice. And I've just run out.

More to the point, freshly squeezed orange juice, not that horrible cardboard carton rubbish, not solar toxic goo delight, not pasteurised, not de-lumped, and not concentrated unconcentrated and re-lumped. Proper squeezed orange juice with pulp in it. Not actually squeezed out of an orange where I can see, since that's a lot of work, but the closest thing that comes ready-containered.

Orange juice is surprisingly nice for a substance so reminiscent of both urine and bile, albeit less bilious than grapefruit. On the downside, the vomity aftertaste tends to make it so that one wants to eat or drink something else shortly afterwards. A good way to mitigate against this effect is to mix one's orange juice with black coffee, such that the coffee's bitterness and orange's vomitousness cancel out.

The colour is a bit offputting too, and unfortunately adding coffee does nothing to improve this aspect. I imagine one could add food colouring, but a simpler solution is to simply drink your orange juice in the dark, or with your eyes closed, or out of an opaque container.

Despite these negative aspects, orange juice is a better drink than anything else that's as little effort. Better drinks include properly distilled water, which is rather hard to come by, and mixed fruit drinks that include berries and such, which is also generally a pain to acquire.

Drink orange juice now. This blog entry has been brought to you by the imaginary world orange juice consortium. [17:42] [31 comments]

Monday 12 April 2004
Mmmm, computer games.

I purchased Diablo 2 on a whim, because I was feeling like playing something fairly mindless. It went above and beyond the call of duty, being perhaps even more mindless than Quake. I would have been tremendously disappointed with it, I think, but for the fact that we started playing it as two-player right from the start. Co-operative two-player-ness is nice. Does anyone have recommendations of other games that do it?

Free with Diablo 2, I also got Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force. Slightly less mindless than Diablo 2, it was quite decent for an FPS; bit of stealth, bit of maiming, only a couple of 'boss' things, fair graphics. Wouldn't suggest buying it, but quite good as a free-with-another-game thing. The plot was fantastically Voyager-like, complete with an epilogue ending "oh you zany vulcans" (all laugh raucously).

And the other game, Beyond Good And Evil, as recommended by Levez. A fine recommendation there, I'm very much enjoying the game. I wouldn't have compared it to Zelda myself, but now that people have done I can't help but see the similarities; the combat is simple and real-time, the game is more linear than it would like you to believe, the characters are weird and the whole interface is pleasingly simple, verging on self-explanatory. Thus far it has a decent plot, lovely graphics, amusing subgames and a fat farting pig. Can't beat that.

So, three reviews tending to the positive side (yes, the Diablo 2 review was positive, though only just). Has this ever happened before in Raven-world? Yes, I think it has. But not very often. [15:23] [33 comments]

Thursday 8 April 2004
A division of game-flavour that just struck me; I think of it as the thermochemistry of the game.

Most popular games, I think, are exothermic - like an exothermic chemical reaction, once the gamestate has started reacting to the players, the reaction will tend to accelerate until the fuel is consumed and the game is over. The game that triggered the whole observation is Babel, where once a player has started to win, the game utterly collapses in favour of that player. The same thing, to a degree, happens with many popular games. Consider Chess or Stratego - if you lose a powerful piece, the rest of your pieces pretty much inevitably follow. In Go or Abalone, if your opponent gets a firm grip of the board, your score plummets, and as your score plummets your grip on the board weakens, and it gets easier and easier for your opponent to maintain or even increase their lead. Monopoly is perhaps one of the most obviously exothermic games there is. Risk is quite exothermic, though that your greater number of units are spread more widely dissipates the effect somewhat. Magic:TG is mostly quite exothermic, which is lessened a little by the "erase everything" cards. To a lesser degree, Shogi and Rithmomachia are exothermic, but their design is such that reversing the 'reaction' is much more feasible.

An endothermic game, then, is one where as you get closer to winning, it gets more difficult to maintain your lead. This is the case with many games where more than two players are involved, especially where trading is a factor. In Settlers of Catan, for example, people will generally refuse to trade with a player who is close to winning, or at least require a better exchange rate from them. I'm not sure Settlers is endothermic, though, since a player in a winning position generally has more income and options from the game itself, enough to make up for the reduced trading options. Icehouse has potential for a similar 'trade' handicap against whoever seems to be winning, and has no comparable exothermic tendencies. Canasta and Cheat are both endothermic, Canasta because the winning player has a more difficult time entering a round, and Cheat because the winning player has fewer options for play and less complete information to work with. Splat is mostly neither, but has slight endothermic tendencies when a player gets close to victory - it is possible for their opponent to bring the game almost back to parity by winning a single 'endgame' round.

Then there's my favourite flavour - the games that are neither exothermic nor endothermic. Scrabble is a fine example - it's no easier to get more points when you're winning than it is to get points when you're losing. Same goes for Alphabetix, Carcassonne, 6 Nimmt, Boggle, Ricochet Robots and Set. Note, that's not to say that you're just as likely to win when you're losing - the person with the lead is always more likely to win - but rather that the chance of increasing a lead is always the same as the chance of closing that lead (given equally competent opponents). With some of these games it's still possible, despite the lack of distortion, for a game to be a foregone conclusion - in Set, for example, once a player scores their thirteenth or fourteenth point there aren't enough points left in the game for the result to be turned around. The difference from an exothermic game, though, is that when the player has twelve points, even if the other player has none, there's still a perfectly good chance of losing even without playing ineptly, if the opponent plays well.

My preference, then, is towards games that are not at all thermochemical; failing that, I prefer a game to be endothermic rather than exothermic. Exothermic games are so often a completely foregone conclusion a few turns in, but still require playing out 'just in case', and the playing out is often extremely tedious and pointless.

To illustrate this point, imagine two world-class chess players, playing chess, but with one of their rooks taken away at the beginning - it's just not worth playing the game at all with the handicap. With two world-class Set players on the other hand (if such a thing existed), one given a five point handicap (which is more than equivalent to a rook handicap), there's no reason to assume that the advantaged player will win. You'd still bet on them, though.

To further clarify, this isn't necessarily the effect of a random factor - none of Set, Ricochet Robots or Boggle has a random factor per-se (there are random factors but the two players are always on a precisely even playing field). [17:20] [7 comments]

Monday 5 April 2004
An inspiring list of high-tech pranks (via Kevan), some of which seem more suitable as supervillain paraphernalia than as practical jokes. Shoot ion streams out of your fingers! Engrave "CHAIRFACE" on the moon! Create tidal waves to threaten Tokyo!

Related fun with slightly less prank-inclined ideas, and also related but not from the same person, a more practical and actually properly demonstrated thing, the solar powered instant toast burning device. [07:34] [5 comments]