Saturday, August 30, 2008

NAIG and other delights

A couple of weeks ago I went to the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG); it turned out to be quite a day of abundant flavours. Harvey, a friend from the Tsawout band, my son Iain, and I packed into a van and headed up-island. We got to NAIG and were immediately drawn to the stalls full of handicrafts; in the midst of Harvey's conversations with friends and relatives, we made some good purchases. Our main goal was to price cedar hats, but we only did so half-heartedly, preferring to just admire them, due to their high cost ($250-3,000). Instead, I purchased a wrist band of woven cedar with a clasp made from an Indian Head nickel. We then headed to the food stalls and had Scow bread, salmon and Indian tacos (venison chilli over fry bread and topped with cheese).

After meeting Vince from Hot Springs Cove at a soccer game, we headed back home; on the way we stopped by OrganicFair and were very impressed by their operation. This idyllic setting rewards the visitor for embarking on the circuitous route: I repeatedly thought, I would love to live in a place like this. After walking through rows of lavender reminiscent of Philip Craig's Lavender Fields, we arrived at the store. I looked forward to trying some more of their offerings after my previous mixed-review. The Kashmir and Maple Leaf bars were good but not great; their flavours clashed with one another. However, the lemon in Little Italy perfectly complemented the espresso chunks and chocolate, bellissimo! I was pleased with their Sinfully Spiced Coffee, and reminded of Fusion's Focus Blend . Unfortunately, they were out of Hedonist Hot Chocolate, but their homemade strawberry ice cream was excellent.

After getting into Victoria, we dropped my son off at home and went to Cafe Marrakech (2551 Quadra) for dinner. As soon as I walked in and had to engage the hostess, I suspected that the service would be bad. Shortly after our arrival, my suspicion was confirmed by the abrupt departure of a couple after the hostess/waitress got their order wrong; actually it wasn't that abrupt because she took five minutes to process the transaction for their appetizers. Hopefully some better staff will have been hired because the food was excellent. We started with salads, but it wasn't until the main course that things got interesting. I had Bestella Moroccan, two pies made of shredded chicken; each pie was the shape of a hockey puck and twice the size. The chicken was encased in crisp layers of a pastry similar to phyllo, and topped with cinnamon and sugar; the resultant combination of salt and sweet was rich and distinctive. Harvey had a lamb couscous, which looked good.

Then we buzzed down to the IMAX to watch Shine a Light. The sixty foot images and excellent sound left me applauding a couple of times; however, I stopped in embarrassment as soon as my rational brain realized I was in a movie theatre.

A tilting ship

Like a flock of tourists shifting to larboard at the call, "orca", houses in Victoria seem to be flooding the market; nevertheless, houses only appear to be flooding the market. This is true because we are used to houses being snapped up and only seeing Sold signs for a few days, not For Sale signs for a month. The sudden appearance of signs all over town encouraging owners to earn money by selling also fuels this image. Yes, the market has slowed, but only in relation to the recent boom; furthermore, prices haven't dropped. Remember that seats at the buffet open up when the tourists go running.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The sometimes precarious cogs of scholarship

As I was cleaning out my office at the CSRS, an awesome place, I ran across an article in Phoenix that I had photocopied a year or so ago. The article, The Date of Augustus' Edict on the Jews (Jos. AJ 16.162-5), critiques the date attributed to this edict. Claude Eilers reveals that the date that scholars have associated with this document for at least the last fifty years is wrong. The story goes that a scholar in 1885 made note of a Roman numeral XI in the margin of the Latin manuscript. A later scholar then, without referring to the original manuscript, assumed this number must a reference to the year Augustus received Tribunician Power; she dated the document to 12 B.C., a date which gained wide acceptance. Unfortunately these numerals were one of a series that were used to denote chapters and not a date at all. Eilers argues for a date of 3 A.D., some 14 years later. Although some may be surprised that historians can be so precise and comment, "What is 14 years out of 2000?", this article highlights the need to check original references. There are many similar stories in many fields and it sometimes makes you wonder about the solidity of the bedrock of past scholarship upon which modern scholarship lies.


As a Canadian I'm used to political conventions that barely register a blip on the radar unless one party is joining another; thus, it's not surprising that I was overwhelmed by the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Nevertheless, the 2 stadiums, Green Sunday concert and wide TV/internet viewership made this convention large, even on the American scale. What was even more surprising than the 22 hours of speeches and performances over 4 days was the high quality of these speeches. Of course, the big three, the speeches of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama are the ones that will last in society's memory. (These links to the NY Times provide interactive transcripts, a cool feature). All three were exceptionally crafted and covered what I expected. I was surprised to find that Obama's caught me off guard: while listening I kept thinking, "Mention how you will pay for these programs". It took him twenty minutes to get to the pay part and he covered it in one line. I think he should have spent a little more time on this; nevertheless, his speech was as captivating and motivating as usual and contained the big chunk of policy and justification that pundits were expecting. I only wish it was Harper who had made the commitment to end our country's dependence on imported oil in the next ten years.

I must hand it to the Clintons: they kept themselves composed and have averted the predictions of a bitter fight and fratricide. They have really bent over backwards. Furthermore, she exemplified the eloquence and wisdom that drew so many voters to her in the first place. In the end the Convention out shone McCain and his clever ads.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic Glory

Although I was buoyed by the success of South Island athletes (six of Canada's 18 medals) at the Olympics, I was disappointed by Canada's overall performance relative to other countries of our size. How come we can never touch Australia, a smaller country in population (two-thirds of ours) with over twice as many medals, and only just beat countries, such as Holland who have half our population? (They actually ranked higher due to a greater number of gold medals). In the Winter Olympics countries such as Austria, a third of our population, are our nemesis. The coverage by CBC however, did not disappoint. The live video on their website was excellent offering versions with or without the commentary, and highlights were easy to find in the On Demand Video tab. Watching without the commentary was frequently illuminating as you could clearly hear the advice of coaches during a match, though it could get annoying with the repeated chanting of U-S-A. The ability to choose what event you wish to watch live and switch between them was very handy. I sure didn't miss cable this time around.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

PSP modding

Recently, I passed through the gateway of another "monumental" birthday; however, given the fact that I'm usually happy and only randomly glum, comments like, "focus on the happy and not the birthday," bore little relevance to me. Instead, I decided that it was high-time that I modded my PSP. I did so for a number of reasons: first, I seek perfection in a machine and having my music cut out whenever I surf the net, viewed a photo, or played a game irritated me; second, the noise and load times of the UMD drove me crazy. To solve these problems I turned to the world of Dark Alex and other modders. Sony has made some welcome changes to the firmware, the PSP operating system, but has focussed much of its energy on combatting these hackers and providing impractical offerings, such as a camera and GPS (both require bulky attachments). Although my Slim and Lite is an object of beauty, especially with a GelaSkins on it, Sony continues to be an unyielding protectionist: think of the Memory Stick, BlueRay, ATRAC. Sony would do well in this case to abandon the UMD and offer all games for download (get with the times) and acknowledge the power of open-source, or at least other options, e.g. flash memory or .mp3.

The first step in hacking your PSP is to create a Magic Memory Stick; xMESxINCx provides a good video on how to do this, although it's interrupted by a phone call, and a link to the necessary software. Basically you download software and run it with your PSP in USB mode. Ensure you use a Memory Stick over 256 mb that is backed up, since it will be formatted. The next step is to make a Pandora Battery. PSP batteries have a circuit board with an EEPROM chip, which when disconnected becomes a recovery battery. If you have access to a modified PSP you can easily convert your battery into a Pandora Battery with the creator program or you can purchase a modified battery. A common belief is that once the Pandora Battery is made the battery can only be used as a recovery battery; however, this is false, so it is unnecessary to purchase a new battery for modification. If, for some reason, you do decide to purchase a new battery, know that Sony has recalled older batteries and replaced them with batteries that cannot be turned into Pandora Batteries (yet).

The first step is to open the battery's case; however, be very careful: first, more force than you think is necessary to cut the case with a knife (I tested how much was necessary on a piece of plastic from a yogurt container, which has roughly the same thickness; second, if the battery is punctured is will pour forth smoke and catch on fire. I found this out the hard way on my first attempt on an old Extended Life Battery. I was lulled into a false sense of complacency by YouTube videos that didn't show the case-opening process. The result was that I attempted to open the case at 3:00 a.m. after a string of nights with no sleep while watching TV, stupid I know. Anyway I punctured the battery inside the case and had a lovely spectacle of smoke and fireworks. No harm was done, but my den reeked for a few days. Armandolora94 seems to be the only video that shows how much effort is required to open the battery's case. Keep your cool and you won't hurt your finger like him or say screw it and use a sharp knife once the case was partially opened like me.

Once the case is open you open out the circuit board then cut the wire in the bottom left below the 1 or 9. xMESxINCx have the best video showing every step and a picture of where to cut. Once you have your Magic Memory Stick and Pandora Battery you return to the instructions on the first xMESxINCx (Magic Memory Stick) video. Once this process is done you repair the Pandora battery by filling in the cut you made with graphite from a pencil and you're done. You now have the 3.72 m33 custom firm ware (CFM) installed and can play ISO or CSO games, games taken off a UMD. To do so, press Select and you will see a "M33 VSH Menu"; toggle down to device and select "UMD Disc" by pressing the right or left arrows on the DPad. Then exit and go into USB Mode. Then go into Windows Explorer (My Computer) and select your PSP drive letter; you will then see an .iso file. Copy this file to your computer and you have an ISO game. When you're done making .isos switch the UMD Disc back to "Memory Stick".

Since many new games have large files it is best to compress them. Do this by downloading a CSO Compressor; I really like YACC (Yet Another Cso Compressor). Besides the cool name, it is really easy to use (select file locations and press "Go"). Once you have a .cso file, copy it to the ISO folder on the root of your Memory Stick (I kept the Magic Memory Stick as it was in case my PSP ever bricks and used another for my games, etc ...); if the folder is not there just create it. Then open the VSH Menu (Select) and choose "M33 driver" under "UMD ISO Mode" and you're ready to play (go to Game on the XMB and choose "Memory Stick" and select your game).

To play music while playing a game, looking at pictures, or surfing the Net, you need to install the Music PRX plug-in. The instructions for install are easy, follow the readme: if there isn't a seplugins folder on your Memory Stick just copy the one you've downloaded; if there is one edit the game and vsh folders in your seplugins folder. Then use the commands (Note plus Start to stop/start, etc ...) to control your music. If it doesn't work you may need to enable the plug-ins: go to the Recovery Menu (Turn your PSP off and hold the button for 7 seconds or so until the on light turns off; then hold the R-Trigger and turn your PSP on). Once in the Recovery Menu go to plug-ins and enable the music.prx plug-ins. In the Recovery Menu you can also set your PSP to charge whenever a USB cable is plugged in (Configuration > Charge battery ...). Exit the Recovery Menu and your PSP will boot up.

In order to update your PSP you will need to go to Dark Alex. Once there select the latest custom firmware and install it according to the directions. Once a version higher than 3.90 m33-2 is installed you can update the CFM via the update utility on the PSP. Enjoy the new capabilities of your PSP.


Reverb plug-in