Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Defective Scrabble Set:

My aunt was, for many years, an addicted Scrabble player. She once devised a sort of Scrabble Solitaire suitable for publishing in newspapers. Her game began with a rack of seven letters, and challenged you to find the best play. Then, in each column, the new board position appeared, and you were challenged to make the best possible play with your current rack, etc. I believe she did persuade a newspaper to run this Scrabble column.

I was an avid teenage player, and she gave me what was, at the time, the best Scrabble game for sale, a beautiful board with elegant plastic pieces.

After I married, I mostly played Scrabble with my father-in-law. We were evenly matched and appreciated each other’s style. When he visited us, of course we used the beautiful set I got from my aunt.

He hated it. There was a defect in the set that I had discovered shortly after I received it, and he also noticed it right away. A Scrabble set has 100 tiles, but mine had 101; there was an extra ‘W’.

I loved the extra W. I hated the situation that arises too often in Scrabble, where you have six or seven vowels and can’t make a decent play anywhere. To me, that W evened the balance.

My father-in-law complained about the extra W. He often insisted on playing without it. One day, the W disappeared. You can draw your own conclusions. I certainly did.

Monday, June 20, 2011

F*%@, F*%@, F*%@ Safari!

I almost think I would rather spend a month in hell than have to use Safari on the iPad. These two make a horrible pair.

This morning, a friend sent me an anguished, beautifully argued plea to vote against a bill in congress, HR 1249, the so-called “America Invents Act”. I sat down at my iPad to forward his argument, with a preface, to my congressman.

Emailing a congressman requires me to fill out a webpage form with many semi-personal details. I did that. Then I selected the appropriate edit window (on the same web page), to write my message. I wrote my intro, and then I went back to the different Safari window with my friend’s argument that I wished to quote. I copied it and returned to the congressional web form, where I discovered that Safari had helpfully forgotten everything I had typed into it.

After I finished pounding my fist on the table, I decided that I had been doing my work in the wrong order. I should FIRST paste what my friend wrote, then fill in the other fields. So I did the paste, and it worked just fine.

Now here’s where Safari and iPad work together to persuade a person to beat his fist into a pulp. There are no cursor keys on the iPad, so how do I “scroll up” to the top of this edit window? Safari responds to finger motions to scroll the entire web page up and down, but not to scroll inside a window.

Damn you, Safari. And Damn your little friend iPad, too.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Aralon: Sword and shadow for iPhone and iPad: How to do it!

If you're an iPhone or iPad user, and you like fantasy computer games, please check out my semi-FAQ at Aralon, Sword and Shadow: The Plan, with various tips and advice. I've collected information from all over the web, and added some tips of my own, such as your best chance to play the Orc Castle (Uthu) without crashing.

There's something about these computer games that only devotees can understand. One person complained in a forum that he had gotten stuck after playing his game for twenty hours. Due to a bug, or perhaps a careless action on his part, it was now impossible to make progress. He summed his situation up as follows: That's twenty hours, wasted!

Someone else commented right back to him: Twenty hours playing any computer game is twenty hours wasted.

There ought to be a law!

I bought a $0.99 app for my iPad this morning. Before buying it, I had to agree to the new and changed terms of the iTunes legal agreement. This legal agreement is presented on my iPad as a series of FORTY-ONE PAGES, each of which requires scrolling to read. How many hours am I expected to study this agreement before accepting it? Sheesh.

It could be worse. These ‘agreements’ to use software used to appear onscreen in tiny type, sometimes laid out so that you had to scroll horizontally to read EACH LINE; and not accessible to copy-and-paste. Double Sheesh.

Companies ought to be required to make it easy to review the legalese we’re agreeing to before buying or downloading software. If you weren’t born yesterday, you know that some of these agreements bury nasty terms in them, such as claiming ownership of content that you upload.

Finally, no one should be allowed to write a contract that says that the other party agrees to any future changes the contractor wishes to make. “Real” contracts generally say the exact opposite: “This is the only contract between X and Y, and it cannot be changed without written consent of both X and Y.” Triple Sheesh.

Monday, June 13, 2011

When people say that, it’s always a lie:

There’s a coarse joke about how when you hear a certain statement, it’s always a lie. I’ve discovered that modern technology has given us a new statement that, when you hear it, is also a lie. This lie has probably been around for over a hundred years, but it can’t be much older than that, and it has become popular only recently. Here’s the setting:

You are listening to, or viewing, a podcast or some recorded production.

Somebody does, or says, something embarrassing. Then you hear the lie, and it is always a lie:

Don’t worry, I’ll edit that out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wilpon Juices up the Mets:

The Mets’ owner, Fred Wilpon, recently did the unthinkable (and, apparently, the unpardonable): he criticized three of his better players in a printed interview. Fred was forced to eat crow, using the phone to apologize to the players. Worse yet, he was told to apologize by phone, since he would not have been welcome in person.

But guess what?

Two of those players, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran (until Beltran was injured; I told them to trade him before his next injury) were obviously stung by Wilpon’s criticism, and have been playing their best baseball of the year to prove him wrong. The third player, the gracious David Wright, can’t do anything to prove Wilpon wrong until he’s fully recovered from an injury.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Just one Lichee:

While doing some major shopping today, I decided to buy a Lichee. They are relatively expensive, but they make a great treat. I memorized the code – 4309 – because I was sure the cashier would otherwise have to look it up.

The young woman who packed my groceries was obviously the daughter of Chinese parents. She teased me about my Lichee:
“Don’t you want to buy more than one? After you eat it, won’t you want more?”

Ehhh, she was right.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

I went to a big, local cinema to see and hear Wagner's Die Walkure performed 'live' at the Met (CON):

It seems so great to get a Metropolitan Opera Experience close to your own home, for only $18. But I may not ever do it again. The crucial problem?

It was too loud. The tenor made my whole head buzz with his resonance. After the first act, I politely asked, and they turned the volume down. It was bearable, but still too loud. A modern orchestra can be unbearably loud in a theater with good acoustics, but this was ridiculous, and it is mostly out of the movie patron’s control.

It was too long. There were two twenty minute intermissions, and in addition, there were interviews and explanations that greatly added to the fun, but let’s face it: 5.5 hours is too long for even a long opera like Die Walkure.

It was not real. In order to record the singers well, they must have been miked. (One reviewer noted that the sound changed when two singers stood close together, suggesting to him an interaction between their mikes.) Opera singers train to project their voices in vast theaters against the orchestral sounds. I would rather be sitting at the Met and know the quality of each voice, without the fake power that microphones can bestow on singers.

It was ‘produced’. This was not exactly a live performance. The video was taken from a live performance at the Met, one in which, memorably, the opening curtain was delayed 30 minutes for a computer glitch. But there were sudden cuts in the camera work, and here’s my bottom line: I want someone to tell me how this opera video was made, so that I don’t have to suspect that they made some edits to correct less-than-perfect moments. In any case, it must have been a challenge to edit together the sound from all its microphoned audio sources, and the result could be somewhat artificial. The interviews all sounded as if they were done during the live performance, but must I really believe that? Some of the artists seemed awfully relaxed at having their own intermission time eaten up by interviews. Again, I’d like to know how this wonderful video was really put together.

The video did not quite manage to do justice to the orchestral sound. I suspect that is the result of editing together the miked singers with the orchestra. One reviewer complained that the singers seemed to have ‘3D’ sound, but the orchestra was ‘2D’, that is, sonically flat, when the whole orchestra played. (The quiet sections that featured solos by orchestral players were fantastic.)

In sum, I’d like to attend another of these ‘live’ opera videos if I knew they were reasonably true to an actual performance, and assured not to be too loud. I want to know how I’m being entertained.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

I went to a big, local cinema to see and hear Wagner's Die Walkure performed 'live' at the Met (PRO):

Gosh, what a spectacle. The singers for this performance got great reviews, and I thought they were wonderful. The staging had its fascinating moments, and it's notwworthy that this particular stage equipment enabled the Valkyries to sing their parts near the audience. Apparently, traditional staging methods put the Valks partially behind a curtain, so they cannot sing solo, and have to double their voice parts. The Ride of the Valkyries is spectacular theater, due to Wagner's wonderful voice writing.
This video was Opera with subtitles and closeups! And the actor-singers (with one exception) were up to the kind of acting that makes closeups worthwhile. This astonishing opera is drama, drama, drama, with great singing and music to set the moods. There was great doubt when subtitles were first introduced into opera, and this was my first experience of them. Without them, I would have had a good idea of what was going on; with them, I knew how to interpret every gesture and vocal subtlety. I think I would want subtitles even for an opera in English.
Tomorrow, I will post my gripes.