January 2004


Books from the British Railway Modellers of North America provide the sort of photographs that model railroaders need to do proper research of the real (“prototype”) thing. Curse my father for pointing out this web site. (The “British railway modellers” are two expat Brits living in Calgary who’ve been putting out these books for decades.)

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iBook logic board program


After lots of reports of logic-board failures on iBooks, along with threats of class-action lawsuits (background from Wired), Apple has announced a program to cover logic-board failures for the next three years, replacing faulty boards at no cost to the customer, and refunding any service costs already incurred. Some people will be delighted to hear this; some of them went through quite a few replacement iBooks that exhibited the same problem. Must have been frustrating.

Still, based on Apple’s past behaviour regarding noisy Power Macs (see previous entry) and iPod batteries, it might be a mistake to characterize this as an action taken “under threat of a class-action lawsuit,” as Macintouch does. Rightly or wrongly, Apple seems to have a practice of not commenting on repair and replacement programs until they’re in place and ready to roll, which means they’re silent on the issue longer than they could be. As a result, they don’t move fast enough to satisfy their customers, who know about the problems long before the program is ready. To be fair, Apple isn’t likely to know that it’s more than an isolated issue until they get complaints by the truckload, but they’d benefit from a quicker response.

iPod mini reviews


MacUser has a review of the iPod mini, which, try as they might, they can’t see the appeal of. Maybe it’s because of this: “While we haven’t been able to test a unit yet, the specifications and price don’t seem to suggest that Apple has a winner on its hands.” Seems to me that a device whose main attraction is its size is something that has to be evaluated physically, rather than the review-by-spec that MacUser writer Kenny Hemphill has come up with — viz.: step one, divide capacity by price and compare with least expensive full-sized iPod; step two, conclude that the mini is a poor value. (I went on about this at length in a previous entry.) You’d think that by now the product reviewers would be able to break out of the pack and say something that hasn’t already been said a dozen times before. [Edited]

Part of the problem is the myopia of much of the Mac commentariat: they know a lot about the Macintosh ecosystem, but don’t do so well outside of it. Thus they can compare the value of a 1.25-GHz iMac vs. a 1.6-GHz Power Mac G5 on price and performance, but wouldn’t do so well comparing them to their PC equivalents. iPods aren’t Macs, they’re consumer electronics devices; yet Mac commentators fall into the habit of comparing one Apple product to another one, instead of comparing them to the other manufacturers’ products — they do exist, people — against which the gadget will be competing. That’s like comparing a US$2,999 17-inch Powerbook to a US$2,999 dual-processor G5 on performance and complaining that the Powerbook is too underpowered for the price: they’re different products serving different needs.

Fortunately, Mac.Ars doesn’t make that mistake, and provides a list of the competing MP3 players in the same price bracket. And Eric Bangeman’s analysis of the potential market is much more thoughtful. Now that’s more like it. (Not a permanent link Link updated.)

Democrat delegate tally

It’s not about how many contests you win, it’s about how many delegates you get. While John Kerry has won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, as of this moment he still trails Howard Dean in delegates by 113 to 94. That’s because of the “superdelegates” — elected representatives and party officials — some of whom have announced their support for various candidates, and Dean has a lead in those endorsements right now. It’ll be worth keeping track of CNN’s delegate scorecard to keep track of who has how many so far.

Palm OS 6 upgrades

Oh well, it doesn’t all look bad on the Palm front — rumour has it that there may be an OS 6 upgrade for OS 5 devices. This is the closest we’ve ever gotten to confirming that OS 5 handhelds are upgradeable; mum was the word when they were first announced. This was vexing to some users who knew perfectly well that OS 5 was an interim port to the ARM platform while they worked on OS 6.

Delayed again

Well, surprise, surprise — the SanDisk WiFi card’s Palm OS drivers have been delayed yet again. See previous entry. Now SanDisk is warning that not every OS 5 handheld will have enough power to run the card. Why on earth did they announce the silly thing in the first place, then? I’m sure that it will turn out that the only Palm capable of running the card will be the Tungsten C — the one with WiFi built-in.

I’m not pleased with the state of peripherals on the Palm OS 5 platform. Despite the fact that the two dominant manufacturers use different memory card formats (palmOne: Secure Digital; Sony: Memory Stick) and different internals, is it not possible to have some equivalent of Pocket PC’s SDIO Now! for the Palm?

Nikon D70 preview

DPReview has a preview of the Nikon D70, a low-cost, 6-megapixel digital SLR that is clearly meant to go up against the Canon Digital Rebel — but, at US$999 for the camera body alone and US$1,299 for the camera plus lens, it’s a bit more expensive. It’s due to be released in March 2004, so we’ll have to wait until then to see how it measures up. Michael Buffington notes that the specs are better than the current Nikon D100 (which he owns). See previous entry; see also Gizmodo.

Proliferating reptile tribes

Reptile tribes are proliferating across Tribe.net, but none of them have many members. It’s as much due to the fact that there aren’t many reptile keepers on that site — as opposed to tattooed polyamorist Burning Man devotees — as it is to fragmentation. Herewith a list of the tribes I know about; some don’t have a public URL and must be searched for from the site.

Social-networking sites rely on the network effect to take off — i.e., the more people are on it, the better it gets. So it’ll take a while before these tribes come into their own.

Belinda’s image

Image and comportment matter in politics, whether it’s Howard Dean’s Ballmeresque antics Monday night or Belinda Stronach’s announcement that she was running for leader of the new Conservative Party yesterday. Though her surprisingly moderate policies should have drawn considerable attention — she’s in favour of same-sex marriage, which is something even a lot of Liberals have trouble with — instead the media focus was on how she presented herself. The Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert focused on Stronach’s flat delivery and lack of French. And here’s the Globe’s Roy McGregor:

[Stronach’s speech] so lacked cadence and a sense of the necessary political rhythms — carefully building, cleverly punching, climbing deliberately to an energizing ending — that it came across more as a Grade 9 oral presentation of one of her former company’s sponsored school essays, “If I were prime minister …”

Personally, I found Stronach painful to listen to, which illustrates the point. Politics is a verbal medium whose main structure is the podium speech. There have been some very good practitioners of the form — Sharon Carstairs is one. And while this skill isn’t called on in public administration — you can be a dreadful speaker but a superb minister, at least in theory — the ability to present your case coherently in politics’s standard format is necessary to getting there in the first place. No one will elect you to anything if they can’t bear to listen to you. How Chrétien ever managed, I’ll never know.

More site updates; garter care page

A bevy of small improvements to the site today as I procrastinate more important tasks, including a revamp of the garter snake care page, which now has something above and beyond the downloadable PDF — links to sites and books about garters. At some point it will be replaced with the large-scale garter snake information site that I’ve been planning, off and on, for over three years, but at least this blows the dust off of what’s already there.

The Map Room is back

Upgrades to The Map Room are finally complete: a new design and a switch to Movable Type that allows for comments, categories and trackbacks. And I’m posting again, catching up on the submitted links that have been accumulating in the meantime.

The perfect store

In Renfrew Saturday to do a little shopping, and we finally had a look inside Rick’s Hobbies and Aquaria, which we’d been eyeing every time we went over to do our banking (unfortunately, the nearest Scotiabank for Jen and Bank of Montreal for me are in Renfrew).

It turned out to be better than we had hoped: a store that was dedicated purely to the proprietor’s hobbies — just the sort of store one dreams of doing. And, like someone I know very well, there are a lot of hobbies on display: aquaria, birds, reptiles (lizards only, alas, because of freakouts in-store), model cars and rockets, strategy games and — of course — model railroading.

Now I grew up with a model train layout in the basement — my father’s in the midst of building his fourth (I think) layout at the moment — so I’m by no means unfamiliar. And damned if I don’t have enough hobbies on the go or on semi-hiatus at the moment — not that I lack the time right now — but, so help me, I actually started thinking about it.

Oh, shit. I know where that’s going to lead.

Fortunately for all concerned, I have no room — and a model train layout would be well down the list of priorities, after the piano, a space for Jen’s artwork, etc., etc. Still. Can’t help but think that a layout based on Japan, or South America, for a change, would make for an interesting research project …

AskMe threads for future reference

Ask MetaFilter is the bee’s knees. A couple of threads for future reference:

Mars blog

Why should I go to the trouble of tracking down and blogging all the news and photos from NASA’s Mars landers when there’s already a blog out there that covers that very thing? Have a look at Mars Rover Mission Blog.

I quit

I resigned my job as reporter with The Equity today. More than that I don’t want to say at the moment — at least not until the dust has settled.

iPod mini mindset


Yesterday, Rio announced an upgrade to the Rio Nitrus, a small MP3 player with a tiny four-gigabyte hard drive that will sell for $249. Hardly anyone paid attention.

Also yesterday, Apple announced the iPod Mini, a small MP3 player with a tiny four-gigabyte hard drive that will sell for $249. And everybody complained that it was too expensive.

It’s indicative of how thoroughly Apple dominates the MP3 player market that everyone compared the Mini to Apple’s current iPod line, instead of the players in the market segment in which the Mini will compete. It’s also indicative of just how clueless commentators can be.

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The Map Room makes a list

The Map Room has made Fimoculous’s list of blogs of the year (via Anil):

27) The Map Room — I love niche publishing, especially when it’s a niche worth adoring. A site all about mapping? I’d probably pay for this.

This is as good a place as any to mention that I’m in the process of switching The Map Room over to Movable Type at the moment, which means rewriting the template and other tinkering activities. Hopefully the delay in posting new links won’t be any more noticeable than the usual delays in posting that have plagued that blog of late. (Two words: day job.)


Wasabi is not the same as horseradish, says Bill Poser in an entry heavy on lexical analysis. But Westerners can’t tell the difference because we’ve never been given the real thing:

The real thing is expensive, and for it to be any good, it has to be freshly grated from the root. The result is that as sushi has become more popular, more and more of the “wasabi” served in the United States has been fake. It isn’t wasabi: it’s horseradish with green dye. Many people don’t know the difference between wasabi and horseradish because in their experience there isn’t any.

(via Languagehat)