28 August 2008

Word Clouds

I found a neat site called Wordle. It makes a word cloud out of whatever text you input. You can also edit the font, layout, and colours.

The picture below is a word cloud of this blog, using Wordle. :o)

I'm not sure why "one" is so prominent. Have I really used that word so much?

24 August 2008

Stupid Commercials on DVDs

I was watching my Avatar: The Last Airbender (Nickelodeon) DVDs when I was reminded of something I find highly moronic, useless, worthless, irritating, idiotic... well, you get the point. So what is it that irks me so? Let me give an example.

Some DVDs include ads and previews in addition to the main feature, right? Well, there I was, watching a commercial for the Avatar DVDs on my... Avatar DVD. Yes, you are correct. Nickelodeon put a commercial for a product on a product that I had already purchased. They put the commercial on the product that the commercial was advertsing for!?

I've already paid for the bleepin' thing -- why in all that's sane would Nickolodeon even imagine that I'd want or need to see a commercial for something I already bought?!

This wasn't something in the "special feature" section, either. This devilish commercial was run immediately after all that copyright jumbo that you're forced to watch. It felt like several agonizing minutes before the DVD let me escape to the main menu.

Annoying and frustrating.

Audi Driving Experience pics

It took longer than I'd originally thought it would be, but finally here are some pics from my very fun day at the track. See my previous post for details.

Track day!

Drivers, start your engines!

A S4 on display.

Guess where I'm sitting!

I'm sitting in one of these. :o)

Audi R8.

Now I just need to win the lottery.

16 August 2008

The Dark Knight

Finally, four weeks after it premiered, I watched The Dark Knight directed by Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight is a worthy successor to Batman Begins and dare I say, even better.

I'm now able to admit that I like Nolan's Batman films over Tim Burton's iteration of the caped crusader. I much prefer Michael Keaton as Batman over Christian Bale in the current film., but over all, I think The Dark Knight is the better film.

Burton's vision was dark, levied with humourous spots, with larger than life villains almost comical in their comic-ness. Something about Jack Nicholson's Joker seemed off to me -- too loud, a mite too silly, a little too over the top. The film might as well as been called The Joker rather than Batman, and Burton's second outing felt even moreso.

Nolan's vision, in contrast, is even more dark, at least in part because it mirrors reality, the "real world. This embues the film with a grey grimness that pulls you in to an insane world where masked vigilantes and a crazed killer rule the streets of Gotham City (also known as Chicago). I can't remember a single instance of levity.


The late Heath Ledger, in his final role, does a great job as the Joker. There were a few similarities between the Joker in The Dark Knight and in Batman. In both films Joker interrupts a mob bosses's meeting; the Joker falls from a skyscraper -- but while the scenes are similar they are also different. Instead of dieing from the fall the Joker is saved.

Actually, I thought all the main actors (Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal...), did a fine job in this movie. My only quibble would be the mafia and gang characters; they seemed a little like caricatures.

Random thoughts:
  • During the Harvey Dent (Eckhart) paddy wagon chase scene, the police seemed incredibly inept -- more so than usual. No sirens. They appeared to be driving extremely slow for a chase (50-60 mph). Too much traffic? See sirens, above.
  • I was very surprised, as intended, when Batman chooses to rescue Harvey Dent over Rachel Dawes (Gyllenhall). Nevertheless, I'm actually glad her character died. It gives Bruce Wayne closure. There's no way Wayne will stop being Batman (hey, you know there's going to be another film!) and as long as that's the case, Wayne and Dawes will never get together. See, this way there's closure. I don't have to worry about suffering romantic Wayne-Dawes angst in a sequel.
  • The ferry bomb bit: I'm glad neither boat decided to sink the other, and I hope in the same situation I'd make the same decision, but nevertheless it seemed slightly off to me. I'm a little more cynical in regards to human nature.
  • Batman crashing his bike to avoid running over the Joker: Eh? What the heck? Don't kill the Joker (it's just not Batman's thing) but what, you can't clothesline him or something? Tackle him, maybe? Knock the Joker's legs out from under him? This was Batman at his most moronic in this film.
  • The last scene was one of the best and had some pretty good lines. The "you were the best of us..." bit was very nice. Tragic. It presented Batman, Gordon, and Dent as three sides of the same triangle, each representing a different aspect -- vigilante, policeman, and golden crusader. Brothers-in-arms using different methods to achieve a common goal, only to have one of them fall in to the dark side of the Force.
Anywhoo, this is a great film. Definitely a keeper. I'll be buying this one on DVD/Blue-ray.

I rate The Dark Knight 5 out of 5 stars.

Feeling Insulted

At a traffic light, having just spent one hour hand-washing my ride, and being confronted by persons waving signs for a car wash at a gas station.

Windows Vista update

In my previous post I mentioned how after re-installing Windows Vista I'd decided to use Windows Defender rather than Webroot Spysweeper. Well, less than 12-hours later I've changed my mind.

The reason why I'd used Spysweeper originally was because Defender generally had poor reviews. Spysweeper may be a resource hog, and what an obese hog it is, but at least it works.

As an aside, I think it's pretty ironic that in Windows when I click on "click here for help" it doesn't actually help. Oooooh, good one, Microsoft. FUN-ny. Yup. You got me.

Look in the mirror, much?

Does anyone else think this is funny?

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can invade its neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it. Things have changed." -- Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, on the conflict between Russia and Georgia, August 2008.

Site Visitors in July 2008

Oops. This is a trifle late. The top 5 visitors listed by countries in July were:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. an European country
  4. Great Britain
  5. Australia

The full list for July 2008

Visitors in previous months

15 August 2008

Vista Update Error Code 80080005

More Windows Vista issues. :o( For the past month or so I've been unable to use Microsoft update, either automatically or manually. I always get an "Unable to search for updates, error code 80080005". My last successful update was back in July.

Until now I've been procrastinating about fixing this but as this month's patch Tuesday passed I decided to do something about it. I did some research and discovered there's no information on update error 80080005 at Microsoft Support but there's information on the web. Go figure. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell there' s no clear fix. Oh yeah, and my anti-virus and anti-malware scans came up clean.

I'm not sure if it's related, but I've also noticed that with every single restart, during bootup I get the message "Installing Windows Updates (part 3 of 3)... x% complete". Ugh.

So... I had to use a chainsaw to slice a cake. After I backed up my computer I did a clean install of Windows Vista.
  1. Back up computer.
  2. Restart with Vista installation DVD and perform a clean install.
  3. Updated Vista via Microsoft Update until I had all the latest patches.
  4. Install my anti-virus program.
  5. Install ZoneAlarm firewall and turn off Windows firewall.

Random comments:
  • I haven't re-installed Webroot Spy Sweeper, yet -- it's just so beepin' slow during updates. As I posted before, Spy Sweeper is a MASSIVE resource hog while updating. If only they let you schedule time of day for updates. Ugh. Anywhoo, for now I'm relying on Windows Defender.
  • Previously I hadn't been able to update to Vista Service Pack 1. I assumed it was because one of my drivers wasn't compatible, but after I re-installed Vista I was able to update to sp1. ::sigh::
  • It took about 40-50 minutes for the initial install, then an additional 3 hours or so for all the updates.
  • I've only installed the progams I use often. For the rest I guess I'll install them as I need them.

12 August 2008

Vancouver Canucks Great Goaltenders

On a forum there was a discussion about who were the great Vancouver Canucks goaltenders. Anywhoo, someone posted some stats and it led me to this webpage.

In it the author looked at Canucks goalies with at least 30 wins in a season; turns out there are five -- Gary Smith, Kirk McLean, Dan Cloutier, Alex Auld, and Roberto Luongo.

The webpage considers several factors (including the number of games per season, shoot-outs, overtime et cetera) and calculates statistics adjusted accordingly. Again, check the website for the details -- I've just copied and pasted the stats (after minor editing for formatting).

Most adjusted wins in an season:
34 - Kirk McLean (1991-92)
32 - Gary Smith (1974-75)
31 - Roberto Luongo (2006-07)
29 - Dan Cloutier (2002-03)
26 - Alex Auld (2005-06)

Most adjusted points in a season:
83 - Roberto Luongo (2006-07)
81 - Kirk McLean (1991-92)
73 - Gary Smith (1974-75)
68 - Dan Cloutier (2002-03)
65 - Alex Auld (2005-06)

Best adjusted winning percentage in a season:
.633 - Kirk McLean (1991-92)
.630 - Dan Cloutier (2002-03)
.562 - Gary Smith (1974-75)
.561 - Roberto Luongo (2006-07)
.508 - Alex Auld (2005-06)

To my delighted surprise Kirk McLean, in these statistics, comes out on top in 2 out of the 3 categories, and 2nd in the third. Kirk McLean has always been my favourite Canucks goaltender and I thought he had fallen in the shadow of Luongo. For now, at least, I can say it's the other way around. :o)

11 August 2008


After 55-60 hours of playing time, I recently finished Okami for the Nintendo Wii. Okami is a great game, definitely a keeper along with Twilight Princess.

The first thing that struck me when playing Okami was the art: watching grass and flowers bloom as you restore a cursed, blackened land is a treat.

The incorporation of the motion-sensing capabilities of the Wii remote into the game is very well done. One of the key actions in the game is using brush techniques -- you use the Wii remote like a paint brush eg. paint a line across an enemy to damage it, paint a circle around a tree to make it bloom or in the sky to make the sun appear, paint in a broken bridge to make it whole.

I guess I'd describe Okami as an adventure game in an ancient Japan-like setting. The story is based heavily on Japanese mythology. You play a god-wolf trying to literally restore the land from evil. The artwork is such so that it's like you're reading through an ancient scroll with the story and pictures drawn out in front of you. As the wolf runs you see flowers bloom at her feet; when she jumps maple leaves scatter.

Battles are interesting but ultimately not too tough. I never died during the game (through the use of many healing aids) but I came close. Okami is fun because of how the brushwork is smoothly incorporated into fights and for the need to figure out an opponent's weakness.

So... Okami has great game play, wonderful art, and an intriguing story. What more could you possibly want?

The final battle and conclusion to the game were emotionally satisfying. This is the first time a game has made me (almost!) tear up. The game developers also left avenues for an obvious sequel. Unfortunately, I've read that the Okami developers are no longer in business. I guess it will be up to good sales to determine whether another company takes up the Okami mantle. I'm crossing my fingers.

Aside: I might not finish Resident Evil 4; RE4 has been relegated to "if I have nothing else to play" status. I don't have enough ammunition to finish a particular boss fight and going back to repeat chapters in order to conserve ammunition lacks a certain appeal.

09 August 2008

Audi Driving Experience

Earlier today I participated in the Audi Driving Experience; this event is currently traveling around the United States and for the next week is being held at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia.

The Audi Driving Experience is to promote the upcoming 2009 Audi A4. Drivers are able to compare the '09 A4 against competitor AWD-equipped vehicles, the 2008 Lexus IS250, 2008 BMW 328xi, and the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300. Apparently, prior to us fortunate registrants, only the media and salesmen had had a chance to test drive the '09 Audi A4.

All the cars were in stock form, with dealer options to make them as close as possible to the A4. We did the comparison tests on a shorter track.

My impressions and personal rankings:
  1. Audi A4 -- Wow. Very impressive handling and better than I had expected. Light steering feel, point and shoot. Big roll on corners.
  2. BMW 328xi -- I expected more of the interior of a BMW. Compared to the IS250 it felt cheap. Handled great.
  3. Lexus IS250 -- sluggish acceleration, with nice interior.
  4. M-B C300 -- Relatively poor tires? The C300 lost traction fairly easily in the corners. It felt like that had I wanted to I could have very easily initiated a 4-wheel drift. Longest to brake of the four.
I didn't check what tires were on the cars. The tires were supposed to be whatever each manufacturer put on them at the dealership. It's very close between the A4 and 328xi, but I put the A4 ahead because it had a better interior.

A funny: in the comparison tests, all the A4s were bright red, and all the competitors' were silver and/or grey. :o)

After the comparison tests I was able to take the A4 out on the Shenandoah Circuit at Summit Point. Apparently one of the banking turns is a dimensional replica of one at Der Nurburgring, though we went through it in the opposite direction. I was the last of five drivers, the first being the instructor/follow-me car.

I had time to make 5-6 laps -- that's probably about twice of what most people had because of having to switch drivers. Serendipitously I was the only one in my car. :o)

Another funny: instructor says, "Squealing tires are happy tires."

Hmm, what else to say. Oh yeah, in the 30-minute introductory talk, he spent a significant amount of time on the "Driver Select" option newly available for 2009 A4s. He said this option will be thought to be as revolutionary as putting Quattro on street cars was.

Basically, Driver Select is the ability to have a dynamic and comfort mode. Dynamic is like sport mode, but better. Driver Select alters the steering, transmission, suspension, and engine responses. Even better, each driver can individually modify each of those four areas to fit their own preferences. Furthermore, on "auto" mode, Driver Select will switch between dynamic and comfort within milliseconds, depending on how you're driving.

Reality Check -- the lead car communicated to us via hand-held tranceiver, so while we were all concentrating on keeping up he was driving with one hand on the wheel, and the other on the transceiver, all the while looking in his rear-view, "okay, brake here... 3rd car accelerate to catch up to the 2nd... that's good... take this turn wide... now close it up on the straight...." :o)

Hmm, oh yeah, how could I (almost) forget? They had many Audi models out for people to take a close look. They had an S5, A3, Q7, A(S?)6, and the... R8. Guess which one I sat in first. :o)

Pictures later.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, of course I had to sign a liability and/or injury agreement, but I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't bother reading it. I wonder if it said anything about who would pay for a trashed car.

UPDATE 2 (24AUG2008): I finally got around to posting some pictures. Take a look!

07 August 2008

Debix update

To follow up my previous post regarding the ID fraud protection service offered by Debix, there was some question as to the credit freeze lifting fee required for each credit request if -- as reported in the cnet article I sourced -- Debix places a credit freeze on your account as part of signing up with Debix.

I e-mailed Debix for information and this was their reply:

"Debix does not place a "credit freeze" on your credit file. Debix service does not prevent your credit file from being obtained; it will only prevent new credit lines from being opened without your consent. A fraud alert requires the creditor take additional steps to verify your identity. One step is to obtain your permission via your Debix safe number."

So it turns out the cnet article was inaccurate. Debix places a fraud alert on your file rather than a credit freeze, thus avoiding a lifting fee each time your file is requested.

Furthermore, while self-evident but nevertheless bears repeating, Debix only protects against new fraudulent credit lines. Any fraudulent accounts established before signing up with Debix won't be detected.

05 August 2008

ID Fraud Protection

Ever since I started shopping online I've been concerned with identify theft. Though I guess you don't even have to shop online to be vulnerable.

Despite my concerns I rejected the identity fraud protection services offered by banks and the like. The major problem I have with these services is that they only catch a problem after the fact. I'm also annoyed by the monthly fee -- especially since it's the banks who ultimately permit criminals to open accounts, albeit under false pretenses. So personally I think the ID protection plans have been useless and a money grab.

"The Achilles' heel in all of these plans is that the financial institution does not have to make a reasonable attempt to contact you, so the fraudulent account may still get opened. Even with a credit freeze, some financial intuitions won't contact you. There's no way to prove or disprove an institution called you" -- cnet.com

I don't know how LifeLock works but when its CEO is an ID fraud victim after publicly bragging about LifeLock's security, it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. As Jeremy Clarkson discovered, it's not a matter of whether or not you're vulnerable to ID fraud, but a matter of whether or not you'll be targeted.

In the United States the three credit monitoring companies (Equifax, Trans Union, Experian) are legally required to each provide a free credit report annually. I've been checking my credit reports every four months.

Am I being paranoid? I don't think so. Millions of Americans are victims of identity fraud annually. Besides, I'd feel much worse being a victim having done nothing than being a victim and having at least tried to be proactive.

Anywhoo, all this is to say is why haven't I heard of Debix sooner? From an article on cnet:

"Not only does Debix put a credit freeze on your profile, but it uses its own phone number to log whether the credit institution tried to contact you. And if you're not available, Debix puts the pending account or loan on hold until you are able to return the call. And by using a Debix phone number, not your home number, on your credit report, that adds another layer of security to the product.

So how does Debix work in the real world? Say you are at a car dealership and you need to finance a new car. Shortly after the salesperson leaves the showroom floor, your mobile phone should ring. That's Debix; you know it because it's your voice saying a secret code. Then Debix asks if you indeed are seeking to establish a new account. If yes, you type in a secret personal identification number.

Say you are on vacation and Debix conveys a permission request for a new account. Since you didn't request a new account, you press star and you are instantly put in touch with a Debix investigator, who then contacts the party requesting the credit check. The advantage here, says Holland, is that the ID fraud case is still hot. In some cases, Debix has been able to identify a particular IP address and then turn that information over the local law enforcement. This saves local law enforcement time; they don't have to get a warrant for the bank's information--Debix has already provided the information. [...]

Sound too good to be true? In a study published by Julie Fergerson, vice president of Emerging Technologies, and Debix's Holland, the authors looked at 30,000 Debix-secured transactions during a two-month period at the end of 2007. Of those, 380 were identified as fraud and were stopped immediately. Overall, the rate of new account fraud among Debix customers was zero percent.

ITRC's Foley said he was impressed with the results within the survey. Holland told me that during the survey period there were four instances of new account fraud. In each case, however, the financial institution did not call the customer. With Debix, though, you have some recourse. Debix maintains a record and can prove the institution in question did not attempt to call the customer."

Bold is mine

Debix has been protecting against ID fraud since 2004, so it's not an untried new kid on the block. Plus, it's only $24 (for a single adult) or $72 (up to 3 adults, 4 children) annually.

I doubt it's full-proof, but Debix sounds far better than anything else I've seen.