Monthly Archives: November 2009

iRobot Roomba 530: Review!

roomba 530

I brought home a bundle of joy yesterday. No, I did not adopt a child or animal. But I do have a new pet: the iRobot Roomba 530 vacuum-cleaning robot!

I’ve wanted a Roomba for a while. It makes perfect sense: it’s a robot, which I love. It’s a vacuum cleaner, which I also really like. It’s also kind of a pet. I have to say that the way it moves around is pretty cute. There are really nice, nuanced touches. Like how it beeps as it backs up when it leaves its docking station. Or how it slows down a bit when it knows it’s gonna hit the wall. And it hits the wall a lot. It also plays a sort of sad sound when it runs out of batteries. The Roomba definitely has a personality.

In addition to just being a cool nerdy object, the Roomba does a pretty decent job. It picked up a bunch of gunk the first time it swept through my apartment. It seemed to prefer the living room, maybe because it was dirtiest? Or maybe because it liked the feel of the shag rug. I’m not sure. The algorithm that determines where the Roomba goes seems non-deterministic. So it ends up doing something different each time, but I think the algorithm also ensures that it hits all the spots a couple of times, and it apparently knows when it’s found some dirt, in which case it goes back for more. There are some really nice details about the design of the robot. It’s circular, which means it can turn with a 0 degree radius. It has a rotating brush thingy that helps it get stuff that’s in a corner. It’s also pretty short, so it fits under my couch and my bed. It’s only gotten stuck like once, and that was an edge case where it used a table leg as a ramp.

So far I am very happy with my Roomba. It’s cute, functional and gives some serious nerd cred. I realize that it’s only a matter of time before my Roomba gains sentience and tries to kill me in my sleep. For now, though, it’s worth saving the trouble of having to vacuum by hand all the time.

Ender’s Game – Book Report!

Ender's Game

I recently re-read Ender’s Game. The first time I had read it was in middle school, probably around 6th grade. Now I’m in ~19th grade or so. Or maybe grades stop when you get a terminal degree. Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to write up my thoughts about the book. I previously wrote about them in web form, yet the editorial quality was a bit lacking. I actually dug up the “OSC” page I had made and here’s a screencap:

OSC Page

What you can’t see is that the red text on top blinked. I’m not even joking.

So what did I think of Ender’s Game this time around? I still liked the story, but I had quite a different perspective this time. I first read the book when I was around 11-12. The same age as the protagonist when he’s at the top of his game. I must’ve read the book more for the action and less for the things happening behind the scenes. There’s a twist ending that I won’t spoil, but since I already remembered that, the story was a bit different the second time for that reason as well.

I think that when I was reading the book for the first time, I wanted to be like Ender. I wanted to be a genius (I always thought geniuses were pretty interesting). I wanted to do things that other people could not. I wanted to be recognized for talent. Maybe things haven’t changed much since middle school, but I feel I have a different perspective now. I see Ender as a victim, more than a hero or a genius.

One thing I didn’t find very realistic was that Ender is basically put into boot camp at the age of 6. And he takes all the punishment up until he’s something like 12 years old. Are kids just that good to listening to adults? I think that in real life, there would be a lot more AWOL kids running around asking to be sent home. I guess Ender wanted to avoid his evil brother back on Earth.

The book seems much more violent this time, too. I guess that when I was in middle school, I couldn’t get enough of the gore and brutal beat-downs. But imagining little kids kick the crap out of each other is kind of sad. Lord of the Flies is cool because the kids just kind of naturally gravitate to going insane, but Ender’s Game has adults who egg them on.

It’s interesting to think of what I remembered from reading the first time and how it translated to the second time I read the book. For example, there’s a description of a “desk” that Ender uses to play a realistic video game. Ender goes from environment to environment, killing giants and being killed in numerous ways. I remember imagining the game looking something like Mario 64, since that was what was around at the time. This time I thought of it as much more realistic. The interesting part is that the game’s specifics were never really described. Your imagination was required to fill in the blanks and the image in my head ended up being different than before.

I may or may not continue reading the Ender Wiggin series of books. I remember not liking the next book in the series as much as the first, then quitting in the middle of the third (or simply sleepwalking through it and forgetting the entire plot). Pair that with the fact that Orson Scott Card has some very negative beliefs that I don’t agree with and it’s hard for me to get into his books. I’ll give Ender’s Game **** (pretty good). I guess I’ve become more critical in my advanced age.

Wii Fit Plus Review

wii-fit-plus

I’ve sort of been slacking with my Wii Fit schedule, but I just got Wii Fit Plus to see if I could inject some freshness into the routine. Wii Fit Plus is the pseudo sequel to Wii Fit, which includes a few extra activities and some new features as well.

One of the first things I noticed was that the female trainer (which I usually use) is showing a bit more skin! Take a look at some comparison shots:

Before:
Before

After:
wiifittrainer

I also like her new hairsyle. I wonder. If Wii Fit Plus means that the female trainer shows some more skin, will Wii Fit Plus Plus have the female trainer go topless? I guess we have to wait to find out.

One new feature that I was excited about was the ability to set up your own routines. So instead of picking each activity one by one, you can save a bunch and just go through them quickly without interruption. This should have been a cool feature, but it was ruined because picking an activity automatically selects the lowest number of reps, and I do the higher number of reps for almost every strength training activity. For example, I do 10 push-up side plank reps. But selecting it in the routine menu automatically picks 6. You could theoretically pick the exercise twice, but that would give you 12 reps. Plus you have to stop and start again (I thought initially the program would be smart enough to just combine them into one exercise).

Nintendo lost a lot of my respect for how badly they handled this feature. There are a lot of different ways they could have designed this, all better than the way they did design it. They could have just combined reps as I figured they should. They could also just ask you how many reps you wanted when you picked an exercise. The added complexity would be justified by the fact that you’d only have to do it once. They could have asked for default rep values somewhere else.

But instead the interaction designers (I’m assuming they have them, but now I wonder if they really do) at Nintendo decided to pull this shit. Maybe you can tell that I’m pretty unhappy about this feature. In the end, I think Nintendo err’ed on the side of simplicity, which ends up pleasing nobody. I usually like the way Nintendo products are designed, and for the most part I think Wii Fit Plus is designed well, but this feature was just not fully baked. I think I am going to email Nintendo and try and get an actual response on why this feature was done so badly.

Overall, Wii Fit Plus is better than Wii Fit because it just adds new features. I’d question whether they are really worth the extra $20 that the upgrade costs.

They Might Be Giants at SoDo Showbox, Seattle WA 11/10/2009

flood

So I saw They Might Be Giants in concert last night. This was a super special show where they played all of the songs from their album Flood plus some other songs as filler.

There was actually an opener called “Guggenheim Grotto.” Their music wasn’t too bad. But it seemed really inappropriate as an opener to TMBG. Like their songs were about love and pretty serious without any funny lyrics at all. You could kind of tell the crowd was not into them. I felt they should’ve had a more appropriate opener, but oh well. I guess there aren’t really a bunch of bands that are like TMBG and could open for them.

They didn’t actually go on stage til around 10pm, opening with some kind of song about elements. I haven’t listened to their kid’s albums, so this one was new to me. Then they did some other songs before launching into Flood. Along the way they also did some weird puppet show, but it seemed like they had less random stage stuff than the last concert I saw, where they channeled a dead person or something.

For the most part they played songs from Flood in sequence, though for some reason they rearranged Racist Friend and maybe also Particle Man. I think some of the fans were like “WTF” because of that. Personally I’ve listened through Flood so many times that it seems like one giant song. So any break in the sequence is pretty noticeable.

While I like the concept of playing a whole album for a concert (plus other songs), in practice it seems kind of absurd. Some songs just don’t make sense live, like Hearing Aid or Minimum Wage. But in the spirit of experimentation and randomness I can accept it. While Flood is a really good album, I would’ve liked to hear more songs from other albums, too. They did play She’s An Angel, which was cool. And Famous Polka, The Mesopotamians (which I guess they use a lot as a pseudo closer), Shoehorn With Teeth and Why Does The Sun Shine? But what about Ana Ng and Don’t Let’s Start? I guess you can’t fit all their songs into one concert…

As with the last time I saw them (almost exactly two years ago to the date!), TMBG is really good live. Some of the Flood songs seemed a bit under-rehearsed, but besides that they were good. Linnell sang a wrong lyric in Letterbox and I think everyone noticed. Also, random thought of the concert: “Is it weird that there is a giant room of people all singing along to a song about buying prosthetic foreheads to wear on their real heads? I guess not.”

Also similar to last time, the band left, then came back for two or three songs, then left again. At this point I was really tired and started walking off. But then they did a second encore! That’s how you know they’re professionals. I just hope they don’t push it so much that each song requires an additional encore, starting from the first song played. That would get tiring. The last song they did was Fingertips from Apollo 18, which I think they also did the previous concert I saw. It’s a crowd-pleaser.

Hopefully I will get to see They Might Be Giants again some time. They really are fantastic live (especially Linnell’s piercing voice) and really fun, too.

How To Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide For Asian Men

How to date a white woman

Every once in a while a book comes along that seems like it was written specifically for me. Actually, that never happens. But then I heard about How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide For Asian Men. And that, my friends, is a book with “Hung Truong” written all over it! I first heard about it from my internet pals JP Meyer and Maria via their Google Reader shared feeds. After seeing the cover and reading the title, I knew I had to get this book. I promptly ordered the thing from a third party Amazon seller for whatever crazy high price it was. It was completely worth it.

I didn’t get the book to improve my white woman dating skills, but rather to try and get into the mind of an Asian guy who would write such a book (I am already dating a white woman, fairly successfully). The book is written by Adam Quan, who is apparently “an International Business Consultant” who has “successfully dated women of many nationalities.” The book has a little bit of everything, from a theory on why white guys have more luck with Asian girls versus Asian guys and white girls, to detailed statistics on divorce rates and even score sheets for keeping track of your white woman dating progress. I am not making any of this up!

One of the best parts of the book is the inclusion of Asian grammars. There are countless grammar and spelling mistakes sprinkled here and there. It helps to read the book in the voice of a grumpy old Asian male. Here’s an example:

The image you projected to the white woman is the very core of your dating strategy. To date successfully, often you must become knowledgeable about the white woman in question. Find out what ticks her.

Unfortunately (for anyone reading the book seriously), the advice doesn’t really seem all that helpful. The author suggests that to compensate for being tiny, Asian men should work out to increase their physical size. Another section heading is titled “Avoid Losers.” Yet the book sorta forgets to include some common knowledge about dating, like calling the girl the day after a date, etc. The process that the book suggests seems a bit too structured and analytical. I guess it could help to keep a journal, but should Asian men really be keeping track of their current “points,” gain/loss velocity and possible competition after each date!? It’s pretty apparent that a businessman wrote this.

Another distressing thing about the book is its fairly misogynistic tone. For one thing, it treats women as objects, often referring to them as “targets” and the reader as a “hunter.” It portrays the submissive Asian woman stereotype and flips that around to conclude that white women are focused on being headstrong individuals. This is not to say that I didn’t find the book to be extremely entertaining. But there were quite a few parts that had me scratching my head and wondering about those who would take it seriously. I kind of feel bad for the Asian guys who need this book and end up taking its advice.

Overall, the book is quite useless for its intended purpose. For unintentional humor, this book rates very high. If I weren’t already dating a white woman and wanted to bag one, I think it’d also be great as a prop. Just take this to the nearest Starbucks (or wherever white women gather in your area) and pretend to be studying it closely. It’ll definitely be more useful as a conversation starter than a reference book.

My advice: be yourself. Be genuine. Really listen. Oh, and really do work out to compensate for your wimpy Asian physique. Wii Fit seems to work well for me.