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Saturday, June 16, 2007

For some reason I got that "She's so high" song in my head, and I went to youtube looking for it. Of course, there is the original by Tal Bachman, but I first went to the plumber and Norwegian Idol winner, Kurt Nilsen, who also went on to win the World Idol competition.

I love Kurt's voice. A lot of people love Kurt's voice. Enough people loved his voice to continually vote for him in call-ins, making the networks a crapload of money, and providing some demographic audience with a singer for which there is a maximal amount of interest (by definition).

Some people have problems with this, suggesting that the whole thing is somehow artificial and just an excuse to line pockets with more money. I have no problem with this for exactly the same reasons! Yes, obviously if the show weren't a moneymaker, it would not be on the air. If it wasn't a HUGE moneymaker, the show wouldn't have taken off worldwide. We're still feeling aftershocks from the bow wake of American Idol (knock off of Pop Idol) in the form of knock off shows, like Britain's got Talent. ...and we're still getting wowed by people not formerly in the music industry who have amazing voices. This kind of show is what people apparently want to see, so give it to them!

Check out this 1st performance by Paul Potts. The judges don't know who he is. At first glance, Paul looks a little mentally diminished. He's a phone salesman, and he says he's always dreamed of singing opera. The judges seem to look at each other with a look of "oh no, this will be bad", and the music starts. Finally, after Paul starts singing, the judges all have surprised looks on their faces as they realize Holy Shit, this is good!. By the end, everyone is blown away by what he can do. You did it, Paul, your dream came true! All the more power to you!

With the call-in voting, people vote for those from whom they want to hear more. This is a simple form of democracy, albeit with directly-paid votes via the phone charges per call. The show is just a fisherman with a wide net, casting wildly into the population. We're the customers looking at the total catch and saying which one we want to buy. There is the possibility that the system could be corrupted with plenty of forms of vote-rigging, but in the end that doesn't really matter because if the actual winners on the shows do not roughly approximate the wishes of the audience, the resulting music sales will not be maximal. It is in the financial best interests to keep the contest as democratic as possible (a flat democracy), and I think that is the best possible democracy that can hope to exist; Everybody involved has a vested stake in keeping the contest honest!

Before the invention of the music video, popular music was based on singing and musical ability. With video added, the artists were more heavily selected for image. Shows like American Idol take us back to selecting people for singing talent, not some executive's vision of what will make us buy CDs. That's the kind of singing I'd like to hear. Talented. Thank you, soul-less megacorporations, for bringing us the music.

Burton MacKenZie /

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Today I watched the old intro to The Six Million Dollar Man on youtube

I used to watch this show as a kid all the time, and loved it. As a kid, what wasn't to love? Colonel Steve Austin was an Astronaut, a Test Pilot, and the only civilian to have walked on the moon (although he reverts back to military in the series). Back then, it was still enormously cool to be somebody who walked on the moon in one of the six moon landings, so this show was playing that angle, too.

I was also a time when computers were new and cool, mostly synonomous with "magic device that most people don't know much about other than smart science people use them". Transistors (and electronics in general) were so neato-keen that pocket radios would have the words "7 Transistors" molded right into its case, and Colonel Steve Austin was full of them! How could that be anything but good? I'd like a nice BJ Transistor myself!

In his accident, he lost both his legs, one arm, and an eye. Through the magic of modern technology, not only were they able to make him new cyborg body parts, but they were able to make him better. stronger. faster. (cue music) An american hero, plucked from the brink of death, and given secret powers to be used only for good (as directed by the government).

If you look closely at the specs during the intro, we learn lots of things about the parts. I am surprised at the level of detail.

Bionic Visual Cortex Terminal
Catalog #075/KFB
43MM O.D. F/0.95
Zoom Ratio: 20.2 to 1
2135 Line 60 Hz
Extended Chromatic Response
Classic JC

His bionic eye can do a 20.2x zoom (which is way better than my modern digital camera), can see either the infra red or ultra violet (or both), has a focal distance of 0.95 (units?). I don't know what 43 O.D. means - ocular diameter? It looks like his "vision" is seen by him as a 2135 line display running at 60Hz refresh. That's some pretty impressive vertical resolution, but I'm surprised they didn't spend more episodes on him complaining about interference from the mains, which you'll likely get on your CRT if you set the refresh to 60Hz. I hope the catalog number is some internal designation rather than the stock number - somehow a Six Million Dollar Man built with consumer parts from digiKey doesn't seem as cool. No, on second thought, building a cyborg with parts from digiKey does sound cool.

Bionic Neuro-link Forearm/
Upper Arm Assembly (right)
Catalog # [can't make it out]
Bionic Neuro-link Servo (right)
Catalog # [can't make it out]
Neuro Feedback Terminated
Power Supply
Atomic Type AED-4
Catalog # [can't make it out]
1550 Watt Continuous Duty
Nominal Double Gain
Overload Follower
Class MZ

This one is all about his arm. Note how they actually take the time to specify that there are three components here: the neuro link, the servo (the part that changes electricity into mechanical motion), and the power supply to run it all, a 1.55 kWatt Atomic Energy Device (abbreviated "AED"). I think here the stats fall short of the script requirements. Given Steve Austin using his arm to dead lift 1000kg one metre high (assume at sea level) would require ~9800 Joules of energy. Unfortunately, his arm's atomic power supply can only put out 1.55kJ/s of continuous duty power. That means it will take him ~6.3 seconds to lift that 1000 kilograms one metre. Ironically enough, that probably matches the amount of audience time he would spend lifting it, but since they slow down the action (and add the bionic sound), he should be lifting it faster than that. I have no idea what they mean by nominal double gain or overload follower. Those sound like words from an electronics book picked out of a hat.

Bionic Neuro-link
Bipedal Assembly
Catalog #915 PAM
Neuro Feedback Termiated
Power Supply
Atomic Type AED-9A
4920 Watt Continuous Duty
Nominal Double Gain
Overload Follower
2100 Watt Reserve
Intermittant Duty
Class CC

His legs are given a lot more power - not only do that have 4.92 kilowatts of continuous power available, they have a reserve of 2.1 kiloatts. I don't think they're using the right units (I think it should be something like kilowatt-seconds), but they were probably thinking ahead for the jumps. Steve needs the large continuous output power to run fast (at least 60mph, according to the intro), but really needs that extra power reserve for jumping onto buildings and over tall fences, or maybe just for some bionic sprinting. He must have some huge freakin' storage batteries in his legs, or that model of AED can tolerate current bursts. Hey baby, is that four D-cells I see in your trousers?

Unfortunately, as if he didn't have health insurance, his treatment cost six million dollars! They say he's the first, but later he meets the guy who was really first and cost Seven Million Dollars! They just kept making more and more of them, until even Sandra Bullock was bionic, too!

Sandra Bullock can go bionic on me any time she damn well pleases. I'll risk the friction burns.

I suppose my favourite character from the series had to be Bigfoot/Sasquatch, as played by André the Giant. (he shows up 3:00 into this clip) The Sasquatch, in this series, was a "100% Bionic" robot made by aliens visiting Earth and running in a different time speed.

How can you not love the Bionic Sasquatch?

Burton MacKenZie

Update: I serendipitously just discovered that NBC is rehashing the Bionic Woman with a new dark and edgy story:

It could be good. Here's to hoping.

Burton MacKenZie

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Barring the fall of our global technological civilization, the content of blogs and wikis and newsgroups will be mirrored and indexed again and again in such a distributed manner that what is written (content) isn't just for the consideration of the now anymore, it is for eternal review. As long as our global technological level does not plummet, losing information, the things we put online will be there forever. The great Google, its peers and descendents will implicitly guarantee an immaculate data mine for socio-archeologists of the future; The internet doesn't just bring us together socially, it brings our species together through time! (Unfortunately it's unidirectional) Forever will humanity know that Burton MacKenZie loves eating bananas, but not so fresh that they're starchy, and not so ripe that they're soft and easily mushed.

We just happen to be on a temporal boundary of our global distributed cache of information, the internet. That is, we are in the time that made it possible, hence this is the starting "time=0" point of where incredibly detailed (and often pointless) records will be. (Aside: Maybe we will replace the year starting reference; For instance, A.D. 2007 will be replaced by I.N. 37, with the I.N. designation referencing from January 1 1970, as a combination of inertia and a tip of the hat to unix time and its derivatives.) The other temporaral boundary either doesn't exist (or rather, exists at T=infinity), and information continues forever in the hands and minds of intelligent beings, or it is finite and represents a fall of global technological civilization as we know it.

With this destiny for your content in mind, write for the future as well!

Dear Future,
I hope you have my (our) descendants populating the habitable universe! It seems instinctual for a parent to hope that for their kids. By instinctual, I mean "selective behavior encoded into genome". I feel a great love for my wife and kids, and by some transitive property, the rest of you I don't know yet. I like looking at the moon. My favourite phase is the 1st quarter, because I can triangulate distances well with our Star. What did you do with my bones? I hope they're not just sitting in a box in the basement somewhere. That would suck.
Kind Regards,
Burton MacKenZie