I forgot to mention this before I left, but I am now in Alabama! Looking forward to starting work next week, and spending time getting things ironed out. I won’t have net access for a little while, so things here will be quiet.

P.S. I’m writing this from the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library. Beautiful place!

Xbox 360 – Taking my money elsewhere

Today Microsoft announced its price points and accessory list for the upcoming Xbox 360. I’m now almost certain I won’t be buying one. Here’s one of many stories on the announcement. “Major Nelson”, who heads up the Xbox Live program, has more details, but his site is getting hammered at the moment.

My current Xbox has given me many happy hours of gaming with friends and online. While I have no doubt that the 360 would do the same, in the end the pricing is just prohibitive for me.

In order to preserve some semblance of a low price point, Microsoft is going with two versions of the console: One at $399, and another at $299. Here’s what you get for the extra $100 that the cheaper version doesn’t include:

-Wireless controller instead of wired
-20GB hard drive
-Fancier A/V cable
-Remote Control for DVD playback
-Ethernet cable

In all, really not a bad package for just $100 more. While expensive, I could still see myself possibly paying $399. But the killer for me is the accessory prices.

$50 for an extra controller? $20 for a simple snap-on decorative faceplate? But the biggest problem is the pricing on the wireless adapter. Playing games online with the 360 over wireless will cost you an extra $100. Simply outrageous! I recently bought a wireless router AND a card for my laptop for $70.

And in the end, those without the hard drive will be hurt. I’ve seen unconfirmed statements from people who work at Microsoft that the drive will be required to play online. If true, they are in effect buying a system that is crippled just out of the box.

So let’s say I want to play a game with a friend online at launch day. Here’s what I’d have to spend:
System – $399
Extra controller – $50
Game – $50 (estimated)
Wireless adapter – $100

Total – $599

Simply out of my price range.

Plus, Microsoft has fractured the market. Are game developers going to make games that use every ability of the 360, when they know that some system owners will be unable to play the resulting product? No, they’ll code to the lowest common denominator.

Just a few hours ago, Microsoft almost certainly had my money in their pockets. Now I’m in the “wait and see” camp, and leaning towards not buying it at all.

I’d reserved $350 in my budget for the purchase of a new system this fall. The Playstation Portable is looking much more attractive this morning.

For consideration: This kind of pricing structure is also going to put a damper on the library gaming programs that have been gaining momentum lately.

More widgets

Richard over at CISTI took the library widget idea seriously.

He got a colleague who is obviously better at picking up XML than I to pull together a catalog searching widget. There’s a couple other nice features too, such as direct links to hold requests and books checked out.

But the absolute best part is that this provides a jumping off point for other library widget developers! The best way to learn any kind of web programming/scripting/etc is to have existing source code to look at and play with. Thankfully, Konfabulator’s widgets do not hide the source XML. I’ve already modified the CISTI widget to work on a basic level with the UAH catalog.

And then I noticed that Stephen, who actually coded the CISTI widget, made it even more accessable! In the widget preferences, the base URL for catalog searches can be changed! I spent 2 minutes playing with the UAH catalog to find the correct formatted URL, and voila! Instant access without even touching the underlying XML.

I hope Stephen doesn’t mind – I’m going to see about modifying the graphics and other features to make it more specific to UAH. I’d been trying to teach myself how to make widgets based on Konfabulator’s documentation. Seeing Stephen’s code makes so many things fall into place!

update: I’ve hit a snag… UAH’s catalog uses sessions. So once a session times out no more searches can be done without logging back in, even as a guest. I’ll have to put in some thought on how to get around the problem.

Retro Computer News

CBC, a Canadian news channel and web site, has a large archive of old news video clips online. Two in particular made for interesting viewing on this lazy Sunday afternoon:

October, 1982: “Kids and their computers”
Kids begin to learn computer skills in school and elsewhere. How great that a public library was offering computer classes to pre-school kids that early! Heh, I just realized that when this story aired I was merely a few months old.

October, 1993: “A network called ‘Internet'”
It wasn’t even ‘The Internet’ yet, just ‘Internet’. In ’93, the world was just starting to take notice. CBC did a pretty good job of grasping some of the big issues the Internet would spawn later in life – permanence of information, social groups, irrelevance of distance, legal issues, etc. A lot more even-handed and accurate than network news reports of tech stories tend to be today.

I found the latter story via, and browsing from there led me to the former. I’m finding lots of great links on Digg recently, and am working up a better method to distribute them than using tons of posts.


My posts have been slow lately, I know. So, here’s two cool links I can across today: has a nice primer on RFID. On that note, is there an accepted pronunciation for the term? I say it “arfid” but have also heard the acronym spelled out. Also related, John C. Dvorak in episode 16 of This Week in Tech had a fun idea to combat RFID privacy concerns: Put a piece of tin foil in your wallet.

Secondly, the social bookmarking/tech news site led me to a fascinating document on The post is scans of four typed pages detailing Nixon’s contingency speech in case Armstrong and Aldrin died on the moon, as well as related notes. Very eerie reading.

Peer Instruction

I’ve had a slight change in my job description. Together with another new hire, I’ll be in charge of most of UAH’s student instruction efforts. So glad I took a course on it last semester!

I admit to being a bit nervous: In some cases, I’ll only be a year and a bit older than the students I’m teaching. Has anyone else been in this situation? Any problems or success stories? I’d love to hear them.

Gun Library

On the way back from finding an apartment in Alabama, my dad and I stopped at the Cabela’s hunting/fishing/outdoors/etc. store in Wheeling, WV. The place is huge!

Taking up a corner of the store was this:

Gun library

In the Gun Library, all the fancier and antique guns are on display. I didn’t take any interior pictures, but it was pretty nicely furnished.

Think you need an MLS to work there?

Podcasting revisited

Well, I have it about three weeks. I’m putting the podcast idea on hold. A couple of people offered to contribute early on, but there isn’t a big enough pool to get regular shows together. No hard feelings, I understand we don’t have a lot of free time. Should anyone get interested in the future, I still offer to play MC for the whole thing!