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Archive January 2005
Tuesday 25 January 2005
Ho ho ho. The American tax bastards decided to hassle me about ancient taxes again, as they have done for essentially every year since I moved there, two years later each time. Since I've been not living there for over a year before this one, it might be the last time. Every previous time they've pulled up some stupid technicality with an incorrect premise and told me that we owe them a bunch of money. Each time, I've redone the papers, fixed their faulty premise, and added a few deductions that I'd been too lazy to bother with the first time as a punishment for bothering me, resulting, each time, in them owing me money.

So this time, rather than having me re-do a bunch of papers that would allow me to tell them that actually it's them who owes me money, they decided to audit. Upon completing their audit, they discovered that they owe me $300, and sent me a cheque. Will they never learn? Just leave me alone and keep what I give you, tax people! I'm not trying to lull you into a false sense of security so that I can commit massive fraud when you finally start trusting me, I'm just lazy and don't want to take time to write tiny details on your special blue and green paper. But hey, if you want to keep auditing and not making me do anything, and then realising that you owe me more money, that'd be cool too. Take it out on the other taxpayers who'll have to make up the difference. I'm sure you're paid by the hour, so all your wasted auditing effort is well worth it for you personally. [09:28] [19 comments]

Saturday 22 January 2005
Today, I am annoyed by marketing. Of course, pretty much everyone is annoyed by marketing every day, but today I have specific complaints. The first one, which inspired me to rant, is Dell. They have on their website a statement that some of their laptops are "1.6 inches thin". No they fucking aren't. They're 1.6 inches thick. Their thickness is 1.6 inches. Look!




The distance that is measured, and called thickness

? -->


<-- ?

The corresponding imaginary and impossible distance that would be called thinness
Second order of the day is an advertisement for hardwood floors which showed us a ballbearing hitting the floor, labelled "273 gram impact" (and several before that with smaller weights). First things first, that's hardly a very compelling advertisement for your product - when I walk into a room there are repeated impacts of quite a lot more than a kilogram, and I'm not a heavy person. But more importantly, what the fuck does a 273 gram impact entail? The important factor, I believe, is a peak pressure - how much force is resisted over how small an area. You could be forgiven for just stating a force, since we would have a reasonable understanding of how large an area a 273 gram ballbearing's impact will cover. A mass, though, is essentially meaningless without a distance it was dropped from, or the speed at which it was travelling. There was no clue as to that - the advertisers give us a closeup played in slow motion. I can only assume that their floors' best ability is their ability to resist scratches from blunt objects weighing approximately a quarter of a kilogram dropped from a height of about 15 centimetres. Sign me up!

And third, my bank advertised on TV stating "we spend our working hours saying yes to car loans, yes to mortgages (etc.)". Towards the end of this spiel, there is a tiny near-illegible subscript on the screen, "to qualified applicants". Well of course you say yes to qualified applicants. Every bank, building society, credit union, shopkeeper and secret spy agency spends their working hours saying yes to fucking qualified applicants. What's the point of such a deceptive ad, if all it's going to do is trick people who aren't qualified applicants into coming into the bank and asking for things that they won't be able to get? Nobody wins.

If it weren't for the facts that my bank is excellent and that Dell have the best spec-to-price ratio I've found with regard to high-end laptops, I would take my business elsewhere on the basis of these stupid marketing efforts. But at least I can boycott the hardwood floors. If "intending never to purchase any sort of floor surface at all" can count as a boycott. [19:32] [8 comments]

Thursday 20 January 2005
Time for hypothetical questions. Imagine you are famous and popular, and also single. Lots of people fancy you, and you often get declarations of intense emotions that you can't tell how seriously to take them, eg. "I'm your biggest fan", "I love you". You have taken to pretty much brushing people off (politely), as the only way to still have any time to yourself. If someone fancies you, and they're actually a good person for you, you wouldn't have any way of knowing this. What would be the best one-line thing for them to say to get you to give them a chance?

Similarly, if you thought a famous single person is great and would be a good partner for you, and you met them somewhere, what would be the best one-line thing you could say to them that would catch their interest, if they are as good for you as you think they are?

And in closing, a rhetorical question for the many "powerful wiccans" out there. I know there aren't (m)any such reading here, but it's a rhetorical question you can pass on to anyone who claims to be a powerful wiccan. If wicca really exists, why do bad things happen? [08:55] [12 comments]

Monday 17 January 2005
On Saturday night I wanted to blog a complaint about how the world is insufficiently convenient. That on the internet you can get any piece of information you want in moments, but if you want to get a pad of paper (which I did at the time) you have to wait for shops to open. But, irony of ironies, Livejournal was down at the time, so I couldn't blog about it. Well, I could, since my blog is separate from Livejournal, but it would have missed the larger part of my readership, and what's the point in complaining if you don't have as many people listening as possible?

Anyway, there was me being typically unproductive, and I decided a nice block-pad or small thick notepad would be handy since, while my mindset wasn't conducive to programming, it would have been happy to do some designing, and designing on small many-leafed paper seems more likely to lead to eventual productivity because being able to tear off and throw away bits of plan would be nice. And this potential step towards productivity was foiled at the first by the unavailability of appropriate open shops for an appalling 30 hours or more.

Which brings to mind the question "why don't we have shopping delivery tubes or matter transporters yet?" Aren't we living in the future? These things were supposed to be here by the year 2000, if not replicators. At the very least we should have automated shops so that stuff can be purchased at any time. We've had vending machines for 20 years, can't we have bigger vending machines, in long rows, thus offering more products? Or shops with RFID tags in the items, and lots of cameras, and, I don't know, barcodes on our necks, so there don't have to be any checkout people, we can just go into the shop, take what we want, scan ourselves at the checkout to pay, and go home. I wanted block-pad paper on Saturday night, damn it. I have it now, but I don't want to use it now, I wanted to use it then. What good are you, technology? Advance! And butter my toast for me too, you lazy bastard. [14:03] [35 comments]

Tuesday 11 January 2005
And on the subject of things being excellent and better than other things, Stephen Chow is excellent, in particular his new movie Kung Fu Hustle. Not that it's his best movie or anything, but it's still great. Mr Chow does excellent special effects, and really doesn't need to since he's mostly doing comedy-spoof movies. There are several moments of Matrix-parody in Kung Fu Hustle, and each time the effects are done better than the Matrix series did them itself - and almost certainly on a smaller budget. I suspect the reason for this is that Chow started out making movies with no budget, so he's used to pulling off effects using string and duct tape - now that he has the technology, he combines it with the filming techniques used to make string and duct tape special effects believable, which results in ridiculous effects that, nonetheless, don't require putting any effort into suspension of disbelief at all.

This particular movie is a bit of a tribute to lots of famous Chinese cinema and writing, much of which I'm not familiar with. As is Stephen Chow's way, that doesn't matter, it's fun even if you're missing half of what's going on. It's not like it's really very coherent anyway. It has an axe gang who dance. It has kung-fu masters who cut hair and make noodles. It has Stephen Chow saying "no more soccer", presumably not only to a character in the movie but also surreptitiously to fans and distributors who want there to be a sequel to Shaolin Soccer, but the scene is funny even if you've never heard of Shaolin Soccer.

Also, for bonus points, Sony's website for the movie has, in addition to the usual trailers and such, a set of four games each of which is like a quite good game from 1984 or so. Games recognisably akin to Chuckie Egg, Commando, Tapper and Street Fighter. [11:56] [7 comments]

Monday 10 January 2005

Guild Wars players jumping with joy at the excellence of the game, because they were all forced to by the admins.
I said it last month, and I'll say it again now - Guild Wars is excellent. The third beta-test weekend is now over, and it's even better now than it was then (though mostly the same, as you'd expect from an almost-complete product with one month of development extra). It's questier, the difficulty change between levels is less insane, and such. The players remain of a higher calibre than those of other MMORPGs, for some reason; we'll see whether the same holds true beyond the only-partially-open beta.

In the previous betas, I'm told, the admins ended the beta weekends by having giant dragons stomp into the towns and murder everyone, or rains of fire, and the like. This time, when I was watching, they did no such thing. They did, however, make everyone jump and dance, then briefly make everyone giants, then make everyone tiny tiny leprechauns, and finally left us with a heady mix of normal-sized people and pixies. Alas, we weren't able to fight it out in that state, and the beta weekend ended with no special bloodshed. (Linked screenshots are ~40K files, low-quality large images.) Still, can hardly expect special occasions every month for mere test players - that they did special things the previous times is unexpectedly cool already. Unfortunately by doing so they set a precedent, so lots of people where whining about the lack of dragons this time. Hey, I only said they were a higher calibre of people than normal MMORPG folk, not that they're good.

Something of note in the images - the guild capes flapping upwards weirdly in the giants image is a pleasing physics effect of them being yanked suddenly upwards by the sudden growth of their wearers. You can see almost the same thing happening in the jumping picture, as I snapped the screenshot after the people started descending, rather than at their peak height.

Having not really played a lot of MMORPGs, because I generally find them extremely tedious extremely quickly, I'm not quite sure how to explain why Guild Wars is better. Perhaps it's to do with the fact that fights aren't a dull slog (hit... hit again... miss... hit again... hit... you get 10XP!), but instead usually last about 30 action-packed seconds (cast a spell-suppressing spell at the enemy healer, a life-draining spell at the warrior next to you, an area-effect damage spell at the archers, suck some more spell energy off the enemy healer, cast a life-draining spell at him now, and the fight will pretty much be over already because your team's all been fighting too). Also there are (so far) no "kill some number of these things" or "fetch me some number of this object that you get off these things" quests - all the quests involve a very specific goal, and can often be completed in different ways; some, for example, can be completed by having one team member run really fast past all the enemies while the rest of the team attempt to distract them and soak the damage. Also enjoyable is that the main sequence of quests have bonus side-quests.

Another reason why it's better is the programming quality. The graphics are better than most games, MMORPG or otherwise (the screenshots don't really do it justice - movement makes the fountain much prettier, and that's a boring stony area anyway; the swamps with thatched watermills are beautiful), and it'll run happily on my laptop with medium detail settings, even with a couple of Firefox windows and email open in the background. The other recent MMORPG I've had a look at, Wish, chugs along terribly on its lowest detail setting, looks like crap in comparison, and even after I close it everything else runs slowly for about 5 minutes while all the crud is freed up. It also has a relatively pleasant interface and doesn't seem to crash or do anything horrible (though there are still a few quest-related bugs - but that's to be expected in a beta-test, that's what tests are for). And worth mentioning again, it won't have a monthly fee. I object to monthly fees, as they mean more playing = better value for money. I don't want to have to play more quickly to get a good deal.

Oh yes, in case anyone should get the wrong idea from the images - it's not usually quite that packed with players - they had clustered around the fountain deliberately for screenshots. People usually have more armour on that that, too, when it's not an end-of-beta beach party. Also I cropped the images to remove dead space. [11:18] [2 comments]

Saturday 1 January 2005
In the wake of the recent tsunami, a lot of people seem to be saying that governments should be throwing more money at disaster relief funds. I say no they shouldn't. Don't get me wrong, disaster relief funds are all very nice, and it's a delightful humanitarian thing to do, but that's not the government's job. The government's job is to represent the will of its people. If people want to be humanitarian and help out disaster victims in another country, they can and do. I'm all for the government facilitating that - if they set up a nice easy way for the country's people to put tax-deductible donations into a fund with low overheads, did good disaster-relief stuff with that fund, and encouraged the people to donate, that'd be cool.

But that's not what people are saying governments should do. They're saying that their government should take a hunk of everyone's money, and decide to help out another country with it. Do you think the people would be happy if the government said "hey guys, we're increasing tax by 1% this year to help out this other country"? I don't think they would. So would taking 1% off the top of the existing taxes for the same purpose be better? No, it would be the same thing. "Hey guys, you know that money you gave us so your kids could go to a good school and your roads would be in good repair and you wouldn't get mugged? Well we're spending it on building some stuff in some other country! Ha ha! Fuck you!"

If some percentage of taxes is already earmarked for foreign aid, that's fine, the citizens are paying taxes knowing (if they do their research) that that's one of the things they're paying for. Sure, they probably hate that the government is taxing them so much and have no choice but to pay because going to another country isn't actually a feasible option, so it's essentially extortion for a cause, but ... wait, where was I going with that? [09:06] [17 comments]