Tagged with rant

Me and a Brick

I woke up this morning to an email from Lego talking about their Lego MBA (“Master Builder Academy”) Program. As tends to be the case on the Internet, that one thing led me on a path of Lego that I had difficulty escaping from.

The first thing I came across was a new set being released early next year. It’s an exclusive for VIP members, and it is essentially a miniature version of a larger series of sets!

Firehouse Modulars

Here is the original firehouse set (left), and the smaller mini version (right)

The mini modulars, as well as the full-size sets that are still available, can be found on the Lego site here. There is also a video where they talk about their inspiration for the miniature series, and what it’s like to build them:

I found the video above on a site that apparently does a lot of reviews of Lego sets. While poking around to see if they had any other information about the mini modulars, or any other upcoming sets, I found a review for the Ninjago Fire Temple set that I made a month or two ago.

Curious what someone else might think about this amazing set, I decided to watch the video. Oh, how very, very painful.

All right, so I guess I should start off by saying that everyone has different reasons for enjoying Lego. And far be it from me to judge anyone’s reasons to like or not like a particular set. Ultimately, I’m probably not the target audience for this “review”.

But wow. The reviewer talks at one point about personally building the set, but I have my doubts as to how much building he actually did. There’s no talk about some of the fun building techniques that are used in putting this set together. There’s no talk about some of the intricate details on both the temple and the finished dragon. But hey, it comes in a big box and costs just over ten cents a piece – that’s pretty important right? Also, there’s apparently about 200 pieces per minifig in the set. I have no idea what bearing that has on anything, but okay.


The real injustice comes at the end of the video, where the reviewer pans the set for being $120. Despite his seemingly favorable opinion about the set up to that point, he decries the price and the lack of “spinners”. The “spinners” are part of a game that is based on the Ninjago universe, and as far as I can tell adds nothing to the building of the set, or its final look. But apparently the lack of them makes its price unreasonable.

So, here’s the thing. I get the impression that the reviewer is looking at the set from the point of view of enjoying the final set as a play set. Which is fine. But you can buy pre-built play sets anywhere these days. The appeal of Lego – to me, at least – is the process of building it. Playing with the final set is, of course, a fun and expected reward for finishing it. But you’re not just paying for the completed set – you’re paying for the experience of building it. The building techniques, the thought and consideration that went into each step, those amazing “aha” moments when several seemingly innocuous steps come together to create something brilliant and expressive.

Everyone likes different aspects of Lego. Some like the pre-made sets, like me. Some like to take a random assortment of bricks and let their imagination be their guide. Some like to play with the final product. But when there’s a guy like this – a guy who doesn’t seem to know what to talk about until the very end, when he suddenly talks passionately about how expensive the set is, and how it’s lacking a component that doesn’t have anything to do with the core Lego building experience – I feel there is something genuinely wrong. For any Lego fan.

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iOS 5: The Devil’s Details

iOS 5Question: What is a review?
Answer: A thorough, unbiased evaluation with the intention of determining a final critique.

It may not be a proper dictionary definition, but this is what I expect when I read technology reviews. Most of the time, I am satisfied. But with the release of iOS 5, I was consistently disappointed. Gone was the thoroughness. Gone was the proper critique. They read more like summaries of the features listed in an Apple press release. There were some details, of course, but there was also a lot missing.

This is my attempt to fill in some of the gaps. I’m not going to attempt to do a full review. But I want to look at iOS 5 with fresh eyes, explore some of the details overlooked in other reviews, and briefly sum up how it compares to other mobile operating systems available today.

So, lets begin.

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We’ll Listen to Our Scouts… Eventually

Apparently Girl Scout cookies have palm oil in their recipes. Palm oil is not only unhealthy but can cause substantial environmental damage if not produced correctly. Well good news! They’re going to change the recipes.

Girl Scouts of the USA isn’t eliminating the ingredient, but it says that beginning with the 2012-13 cookie season, each box will include a GreenPalm logo as a symbol of Girl Scouts’ commitment to address concerns about the deforestation of sensitive lands caused by production of palm oil.

Oh. Okay. So… they’re sticking a pretty logo on their boxes to say they care very, very much? That’s it?

In its announcement Wednesday, the Girl Scouts said it has directed its bakers to use as little palm oil as possible, and only in recipes where there is no alternative. It wants its bakers to move to a segregated, certified sustainable palm oil source by 2015.

2015?! Right, well, I suppose that’s a good first step, but why would there be recipes where there is no alternative? I think the truth here is that any alternative would create a cookie that is different from what consumers expect, and that would impact sales. Nevermind that palm oil isn’t a particularly good oil.

"Girl Scouts’ palm oil use is very small, but our voice is big," Amanda Hamaker, Girl Scouts manager of product sales, said in a press release. "The world’s food supply is intricately tied to the use of palm oil, so we believe promoting sustainable manufacturing principles is the most responsible approach for Girl Scouts."

… in four years.

Okay, so, taken literally this is good news. But the huge delay in making any meaningful changes, and a refusal to simply stop using palm oil altogether, points to an organization that would rather make themselves look good rather than making a difference.

I guess the girls that are part of the Girl Scouts will have to keep trying to teach their organization about health and protecting the environment. Wait… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

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Imagination is never the limit

From Cisco’s infographic about IPv6 a month or two ago:

When billions of things are connected, talking and learning, the only limitation left will be our own imaginations.

Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize our imaginations were so restrictive. I could have sworn money was the limiting factor in situations like this — money for development, money to build infrastructure, money for content and intellectual property use, etc.

I could be mistaken. Perhaps there was no possible way for Cisco to imagine a better Flip player, so they had to kill off the product.

Oh, wait.

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Portion Control

A recent HuffPost Food article said the following:

And since we are at it , why do we have the "small" soft drinks at the soda fountain look like large pitchers who could serve 3 very thirsty giants? Why are we always served more than we need? Extra butter, more potatoes, super size me.[…] Time to portion control our appetite it’ll do us better than diet pills and miracle diets. I’m for one ready to take the challenge. Are you with me? Let’s portion control, America!

There is definitely a valid point here. Portions in America – and, increasingly, the rest of the Western world – are much too large. But have you ever noticed that the things that come in large portions are also the things that are most damaging in large quantities? Soda, bread, pasta, potatoes, ground meats – stuff that’s processed, and thus cheap. Perhaps one notable exception is the salad bar, but even that isn’t as cheap as the processed alternatives (if it’s a good salad bar, anyway).

In other words, no one would be complaining about portion control if we had a plate full of vegetables, providing us a wealth of vitamins, minerals and fiber relative to the calories we’d be taking in. But instead, our meals are so skewed toward empty calories that we have to take vitamin supplements.

Portion control is important, sure, and it’s a good first step. But portion balance is also key – or we may end up getting even less of the nutrients we need to stay healthy.

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Why I Use Dropbox

Paul Thurrott recently (well, “recently”; I’m a bit delayed on this due to moving) posted an article about Dropbox — specifically, why anyone who uses Windows would use it over Live Mesh.

Well, I use Windows, Live Mesh AND Dropbox. If you’re at all interested in cross-device synchronization, then neither Dropbox or Live Mesh should be so quickly dismissed. This is true, even in light of Dropbox’s recent (“recent”) security issues.

First, let me just say that everything Paul says about Windows Live Mesh is entirely true, and the reasons he gives for using it — more storage, flexible folder syncing, peer-to-peer syncing, remote desktop access, application settings syncing — are valid. These are all reasons why I use Windows Live Mesh, too.

Okay, so what about Dropbox?
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Microsoft: Drowning in a Sea of Partners

As I type these words on my Macbook Pro, there is an iPhone 4 in my pocket and an iPad 2 propped up on its Smart Cover in front of me. If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be using three Apple devices at the same time, I would have laughed at you. (In a nice way; I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings.) So I couldn’t help but ask myself recently: what happened? Why have I turned to Apple when, traditionally, Microsoft has been the one to satisfy my geeky gadget needs?

The answer doesn’t lie with Microsoft alone. Microsoft is predominantly a software company. They write
the OS, the productivity software, the games, or the utilities that run on your device. They provide a solid platform that anyone can use in any capacity that they desire. This is something that has always appealed to me: if you want something in a small form factor, then you can build it that way — and you can be sure that the OS of your choice will run on it.

But what happens when your beautiful software gets put on ugly, underperforming hardware?

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This is Maryland

IMG_0546For the past few weeks, there have been several Winter Storm threats. Each time, the meteorologists at the local television networks hyped up the storm, saying that they predict between 3-6 inches. Everyone would prepare for the impending onslaught of snow. Supermarkets would run out of milk and bread. Windshield wipers on cars would be lifted up so that ice and snow wouldn’t seal them to the glass and render them useless (and, sometimes, ruined). Then, starting the night before the storm, the predictions would dwindle. 1-2 inches. A trace. Flurries. Then, finally, well into the day of the storm… nothing at all.

Last Friday, the meteorologists started predicting what would happen for the next storm. There was a chance of snow, they said, but temperatures would be high enough that it would most likely be an all-rain event. They didn’t hype it. They didn’t think it would be a big deal. This continued up until the day before the storm, and even then no one was sure.

Most people lost power in our area due to this storm, and a lot of cars were abandoned on the side of the road due to the intensity of the snow. We got about 5 or 6 inches from this “most likely all-rain event”.

I know weather is hard to predict, but… seriously?!

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4. Religion


I’ve talked about the heavens, and I’ve talked about the Earth – so now, lets talk about one of the ways humans have linked the two together.

Religion is a topic I could discuss at great length, as there are a lot of interesting aspects to it.  The core of all religions hold a framework that explains the universe.  Usually it involves some supreme being — a God who not only presides over Earth, but all of existence.  Usually this God is a mysterious figure, whose intentions are made known through occasional mystical interaction with the creatures of Earth.

There are two main avenues of discussion in religion.  The first is the aforementioned existence of a supreme being. The second is organized religion itself, and its role in formalizing and publicizing specific beliefs.

(Just a side note: in the interest of keeping this blog post manageable, I don’t go into too much detail. But please, if you’d like to discuss a particular point more, feel free to comment.)

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I wrote this earlier this year in response to another article. But with all the TSA hubbub going on right now, I thought it would be a good time to (finally) post it.

During my daily browsing of CNN while at work, I came across this article.

Commentary: Americans need to stop whining about air security

The opinion piece starts off simply enough: security may be a hassle, but it’s for the greater good. Deal with it.  But the author keeps hammering the point, essentially saying that he doesn’t care what the TSA does: if it gets him to his destination safely, it’s a necessary evil.

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