Monthly Archives: February 2011

Settling the Apple Tax Debate for All Time

1 versus 200

Apple recently announced new laptops with Thunderbolt, a port that delivers ones and zeros at 10Gbps. But is this new technology worth paying the Apple Tax? The list price for Apple’s most expensive laptop is $2,499, but a savvy shopper knows to click on the most expensive options available on the 17” MacBook configuration page. Clicking on everthing, 0.1 more Ghz to the processor4GB more RAM, 512GB SSD, a 27" external display, iWork and Mircosoft Office, some File Maker whatever (I’m not reading the descriptions, alpha consumers don’t do that), etc. puts the real cost of a MacBook for an in-the-know shopper at $7,186.85. That’s actually less than the near $8000 Alienware laptop from Dell, clicking all options of course, but I’ll save the Dell Tax for another day.

much dinero Dell

MacBook for moneybags

$7,186.85 is a pretty steep price for an e-mail machine, so I Googled for "world’s cheapest laptop" and the top result is a $35 touch screen computer announced by India more than six months ago. This not actually produced aspirational marvel of modern science is detailed here and here. The laptop has a "touchscreen gadget", "internet browsers, PDF reader, and video conferencing facilities". That’s "internet browsers" plural. The new Macbooks only comes loaded with one internet browser. Advantage $35 Indian laptop.

35 dollar laptop

Because the $35 Indian laptop has "internet browsers", it can connect to every computer on the internet. Like Skynet, internet computers can be big and powerful. That means the $35 Indian laptop has access to unimaginably more computing power and storage than the new Mackbooks. Thus, the internet nullifies every advantage the MacBook has over the $35 Indian laptop except for Apples Thunderbolt stuff. However, the $35 Indian laptop can access all this world dominating processing power and storage capacity with more than one internet browser, so double advantage $35 Indian laptop.

Now lets compare prices. The $35 Indian laptop costs only $35. At least when it exists, that’s what it might cost, assuming it actually does cost $35. So let’s compare the $7,186.85 cost of a MacBook to the announced $35 cost of a $35 Indian laptop. The 17" MacBook Pro configured earlier costs 205 times as much as the $35 Indian laptop. Which would you rather have, one overpriced MacBook or 200 of the world’s cheapest laptop? If you live in a 1000 sqft apartment, that’s one $35 Indian laptop for every 5 sqft of apartment. You’ll never be more than arms reach of a computer again. To me, that would be much better than this Thunderbolt thingy.

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CiViladdiction

onerous start
4000 B.C. and the game drops the Arabs in the middle of a lifeless desert. Great start.

Sid Meier hit the proverbial nail on the head with his Civilization series of games, nine in all under his helm: Civ, Civ II, Civ III, Civ IV, Civ V, Civilization Revolution, Colonization, Civ IV Colonization, and my personal favorite Alpha Centauri. (Partial history here). These games are hugely successful and highly lauded. Like some other wildly successful game, Civ is a cultural tour de force. Let’s see how the latest, Civ V, stands the test of time.

2011 being a future time playable in past civ games, the game world looks great. Everything looks natural, lush, and alive. The whole package, though, isn’t all up to the standards of the old Civ games. The high water mark for presentation in the Civ series is Civ II, now 15 years old. Back in the day this game came on a CD full of full motion video and real live .wav audio. You’re advisors were real live actors who gave you advice in their own words.

Now after 15 years of reverse progress, world wonders in Civ V are associated with a still image. Worse, winning the game also results in a still image. Games can take up to 10 hours or longer and mere placards that says you win is as pathetic as it is anticlimactic. Here is my reward of a whole week’s worth of free time:
onerous start
wpid-stroke_7-2011-02-23-22-06.png
I had a hard time containing my sense of accomplishment. Advisers do offer more helpful information, such as which civilization has the smallest army, but they also consist solely of a still image. At least competing leaders are given the 3-D treatment, but i wonder how much more effective their expressions would be if delivered by live actors. 

The in game encyclopedia, the “Civilopedia” seems more quaint than backwards. In fact, it is quaint. It doesn’t link to Wikipedia or any other depository of deeper knowledge. Even fan made Civilopedias are more comprehensive. The developers made no effort to include breakthrough discoveries in anthropology and archeology such as theories in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” or the new discoveries into the Antikythera, and ancient computer that changed the we think about ancient technologies. Worse, some of the facts in the civilopedia are just plain wrong.
onerous start
1000 A.D. and the desert still isn’t a good place to grow a city.
After playing several rounds Civ V, it is clear to me that the major focus of the developers was on rebranding Civ as a competent strategy game. Whereas war was once a tedious affair of waiting for the right technologies to take a city, now a decent strategist can take an entire country with only two units. I know because i did just that very thing back in January. My one mechanized infantry and one modern armor unit, gifted to me by two city states mind you, obliterated Japan’s outdated army and took its capital. Japan surrendered and ceded to me all but one of its cities. Then I after the peace treaty expired, I took that one city, ending the game for Japan. As said in “Hot Shots: Part Deux”, “War. It’s fantastic!
onerous start
1980 A.D. and technology finally lets my civilization break the mold.

All in all, Civ V is a fun game. I do hope and even expect Firaxis to improve the game with mods and patches. More diplomacy please. For example, diplomacy with city states is limited to bribing them with gold or completing certain tasks for them. There is no option to discuss trade or partnership outside of these two options. Partnerships with other civilizations are also limited. You can form pacts of cooperation and pacts of secrecy, but these pacts have no effect in the game. I have yet to play a game where the other civilizations agree to a defense pact. They rarely even want to form research agreements or trade resources. Yet, I hope that Firaxis can turn its dud of a diplomacy system into something as fun as the war game.
onerous start
Civ V gives you a “Giant Death Robot” as a stand-in for future technologies.

One last note, the requirements to play Civ V are high. I was mad as heck when I first played Civ IV on my wife’s year old iMac. The game stuttered even after I dialed down the 3D effects until they looked like 2D effects. The end game was so slow and glitchy that I decided to quite trying to play and traded the game on Goozex. Now my wife has a quad core iMac which matches the insanely high recommended hardware for Civ V. But my personal machine is a laptop, and how many of us have a quad core laptop with a dedicated graphics card? Considering the core game of Civ in 1991 ran just fine a computer with a 16mhz processor and 2mb or RAM, I cannot understand why Firaxis requires its customers own a high end computer or custom gaming rig to play the latest iteration of its strategy game. 

I think Firaxis should consider a 2-D version of Civ V for the rest of us. Civ III was a 2-D game and did not look significantly different from Civ IV if you dialed down the video settings in the latter game. Civ V already has a strategic view, which is a 2-D look at the game. For a lot of Civ players, this minimalistic 2-D view would be fine. More importantly, this minimalistic 2-D view would run on a lot of existing computers. Civ V is a decent seller (nearly 1/2 a million sold in the first 10 weeks according to VGcharts) but removing the onerous hardware requirements would increase Civ’s market by a gajillion percent. There’s always Freeciv (and it’s browser based cousin), I suppose.

Little Sister Speaks

he just whines and whines

Still loving that Comic Life 2. Those kids say the darnedest things. I just love hearing them talk.

Untimely Reviews – The Man from Aussie Horse Fantasy

The Man From Snowy River

Somehow my wife conned me into watching a pre-teen girl’s Aussie horse fantasy from 1982, “The Man from Snowy River”. At first I thought the film was a made for TV movie. The production values were not awfully high, clearly, but the characters themselves had that made for TV movie charm. Despite being in a movie about Australian cowpokes, the actors all had perfectly clean clothes and skin. Perhaps the costumes were all rented, because there is no other reason to completely eviscerate believability by dressing manure slinging farmhands in perfectly pressed 3-piece suits. But I digress.

The whole point of the movie appears to be a love story between a poor boy from the mountains and the daughter of a wealthy rancher, sort of a a heterosexual "Brokeback Mountain". Soon enough, though I realized that this movie was actually something much worse, a coming of age story. While most of us non-fictional folk take a good decade to come of age and quietly realize in our early 30s that we ended up living responsibly, kids in movies come of age in single summer after fornicating and/or standing up to the man. Add in some horses and inappropriate adulation and you have "The Man from Snowy River".

The film starts out innocently enough. Jim’s mother is dead and he and his father plan on taming a herd of wild horses to make money. Then one of wild horses, a majestic black stallion that brings his own back lighting, leads the "brumbies", as the Aussie mountain men call them, past Jim and his dad. The poor kid’s horse is spooked and drops a tree onto his dad, killing him. One of Jims’ horses runs off with the herd and his other horse is injured and needs to be put down, i.e. shot in the head. Not only did that black stallion kill his dad, he also stole the boy’s horse. Let the love story begin.

Let us skip over the tripe flirtations between Jim and the daughter of the wealthy cattleman. The highlight of the film is young Jim’s much anticipated ride after the brumbies. The cattleman has assembled a small army of realistically bearded mountain men to chase down the wild horses. So Jim is not only going up against that black stallion, he also needs to show up every single mountain man in a thirty mile radius.

The posse is hot on the heals of the wild horses when the horses run down a cliff. Nothing turns a mountain man into a pussy faster than the specter of death, and the posse comes to a stop at the cliff’s edge. Jim comes riding up and, well in Whoville they say, his balls grew three sizes that day. He rides past the incredulously well dressed and wholly emasculated posse of extras and charges right down that cliff, leaning back, and totally endangering the life of his stunt horse. Then, in a sequence reminiscent of Gandalf’s fight against the Balrog as recapped in "Lord of the Rings, the Two Towers", Jim chases down the brumbies through rivers, scorching plains, snow covered mountains, and finally into the heart of a an active volcano for the final showdown with the brumbies’ dark leader. The leader being the black stallion, hence the description of the leader as dark.

By this time in the film, an experienced horseman had already tried to subdue the black stallion. Despite the older gentleman’s long and perfectly groomed mustache and set of perfectly clean designer horse riding clothes, he was no match for the horse’s wild spirit. In fact, as alluded to us earlier in the movie, this horse had the wild spirit of no less than a suffrage minded teenage girl trapped in the antiquity of a turn of the century Australian cattle ranch. Mr. Mustache man never stood a chance.

But now that Jim had chased down the brumbies, he has his big chance to break that black stallion, which is in no way a metaphor for conquering the virginity of a teenage girl. This was a serious scene and we can see Jim’s face is visibility dirty for the first time in an hour and a half of traipsing through mud and horse manure. Oh, it’s on now!

Jim cracks his whip at the brumbies but his greatest weapon is his intense coming of age stare, a stare so shaking you might notice the trickle of blood flowing from Jim’s nose. An ordinary horse’s head would explode from such a stare. It is a testament to the wildness of the black stallion was merely dominated by Jim’s will.

Having conquered his greatest foe, Jim triumphantly drives the wild horses down from the mountains. So magnificent is Jim’s resolved manhood that his girlfriend has a spontaneous orgasm just looking at him. Some of the men in the posse have one too. "He’s a man now" one grizzled old coot says. Mr. Mustache responds "He’s the man from snow river".

Untimely Reviews – “The Crazies

The Crazies movie poster

"The Crazies" is a serious zombie movie. Thank the filmmakers for serious zombie movies because if no one made serious zombie movies then we would not have any zombie movies to lampoon. "Shaun of the Dead" and "Zombieland" are just too precious of movie treasures for us to risk with more tongue-in-cheek George Romero films. Considering zombies often have no tongues or have their tongues sticking out of holes in their cheeks, I use the expression tongue-in-cheek with the utmost reverence here.

Considering the run time of the ever expanding catalog of movies released has long ago surpassed all of the free time I will have in my life time, please forgive me for never having seen much less heard of the 1973 original of "The Crazies". Funny thing about "The Crazies" remake is that it reminds me of mainstream horror movies from the 1980s. Helping to make "The Crazies" almost timeless is the rural setting, where the only evidence of its contemporary production is a brief view of a cell phone.There are no cheap wise cracks. The characters actually care about one another. Much of the film is shot at night with headlights flashing in your eyes. The zombies, or "crazies" are also real actors in make up and not some bastardized computer generated effect. Plus, the ending is not a total bummer. (I curse the trend of bummer endings). The tone and look of "The Crazies" is spot on.

"The Crazies" provides a twist on the usual zombie movie in that the zombies are living people infected with a virus. Unlike the rage induced runners in "28 Days Later", the crazies are no faster or stronger than anyone else. The sure aren’t smart but they can talk and use firearms. They also seem to work together. The only common thread among the crazies is the desire to kill and uglified faces. Their plastic nature is a nice trick for the filmmakers. Unlike other zombies, the crazies are not bound by a strict set of rules and can thus lend their actions to the story. Each encounter is different and the unpredictability of the crazies creates much of the tension. The tension caused by ordinary zombies fizzles out as soon as you realize they always run straight into the bullets shot at them. A zombie that knows enough to sneak behind you is a much more frightening breed of zombie altogether.

I’ll admit that as much as I liked "The Crazies", hardly any of the scares worked on me. I blame my checkered repertoire of movies. Once you’ve seen horror movies from "Friday the 13th" to "Paranormal Activity", very little. Some movies can still fill me with a creepy paranoia that lasts into the next day. Who wouldn’t still jump if a friend devilishly called and told you that you would die in seven days? Some creepy guy lurking in the shadows, though, is hardly worth sitting on the edge of your seat anymore. Hard to say whether a younger version of me would have been scared or even surprised about anything in "The Crazies". Regardless, I at least appreciated what the filmmakers were trying to do and there is little I appreciate in horror films these days

One big early surprise that kept on reaping dividends was the boogey-man-esque arrival of the United States military decked out with flashlight equipped assault rifles and hazmat gear. Any veteran of the game "Half Life" knows that even a small force of soldiers can be more frightening than a whole town of monsters. The military often runs awry of the good guys in movies but rarely has the affect been so chilling. Even when the facade is pulled off and we see the men behind the gas masks, the danger they pose seems no less cataclysmic. The crazed townsfolk seem like a break for our heroes compared to the certain death of running into a commando squad or getting spotted by an attack helicopter. To put it another way, a pitch fork makes me nervous but a rain of exploding rockets makes me pee my pants.