Friday, June 26, 2009

Trippy Optical Illusion

So this is a picture with a blue spiral and a green spiral, right? Not so fast, Eagle-eye. Get in close and you will see that the blue and the green are actually the same color.

The reason they look like different colors, explains Bad Astronomy, is because our brain judges the color of an object by comparing it to surrounding colors. In this case, the stripes are not continuous as they appear at first glance. The orange stripes don’t go through the "blue" spiral, and the magenta ones don’t go through the "green" one. Here’s a zoom to make this more clear:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2300 miles in an AMG 320ce Cabriolet


I am feeling like a six-year old on Christmas Eve. It is early Wednesday evening, and I am heading to Montreal, so that Thursday morning I can pick up one gorgeous Almandine Red 1992 320ce and point it northwest, towards home.


This is a car that I know only from pictures, from an independent inspection report, and from talking to the guys that are selling it. You could say this is a foolish risk (and you could be right) but nothing ventured, nothing gained. The car has been bought and paid for, the insurance arranged, the in-transit permit obtained, and the route has been mapped. All I need to do is get to the car, have them show me how the top goes up and down, stick the transit permit inside the windshield, and off I go. Grinning.

Forty years ago a skinny, clean-cut 16 year old kid thanked his dad for dropping him off at the edge of town, stuck out a cardboard sign that said simply "PLEASE" and thumbed his way from Ontario to British Columbia. One of his first rides in that journey was with a family from Michigan exploring the edge of the Canadian Shield in a new 1969 Mercedes Benz sedan, a huge step up from dad's old red Valiant. My first ride in a Benz, ever. 40 years later, that kid has turned into a no-longer-skinny guy who still likes a long-distance drive but would like to take the choice of ride into his own hands.

The trouble with buying older Benzes is that some day a Benz that is nicer comes along at a reasonable price. My '81 280ce was great until I found the '84 AMG, and within a year I had gone from no old Benzes to two solid w123s. And that was more than enough until I stumbled onto the Red Cabrio on the internet. Wow what a good looking car. And I showed the website photos to my wonderful wife who immediately exclaimed "that's gorgeous", and I was helplessly sliding into owning three cars besides my trusty Avalon.

So here we go. Day one should take me 500 miles / 800 kilometers from Montreal to New Liskeard in Northern Ontario. It will be two hours from Montreal to Ottawa, where I may take a brief detour and explore my childhood downtown neighborhood, a place of petty crime and few pretensions. Ottawa is a government town so this may have changed... Then out beyond the city limits where my dad dropped me in the hazy summer of '69 and on up the Ottawa Valley, past the end of the 4-lane and on to North Bay. A choice awaits there: keep going straight west on King's Highway 17 to retrace that kid's hitchhiking route, or turn right and go north along Highway 11, saving about 300 miles and covering some road that I have never been on. Simple choice - take the road with the stretches I have never seen.

Past New Liskeard the towns get farther apart, and a tired guy in an unfamiliar car might want to pace himself because there are still days of driving ahead. I might press on for another hour; I might call it a day. I might be exhausted from the unfamiliar rush of driving a convertible at highway speeds with the top down for 9 hours; I might be miserable from having pushed through the rain all day with the roof up, to the unfamiliar rhythm of a w124 windshield wiper. In either case I might have a grin on my face like a hound in a headwind. Doesn't matter, a guy should get some sleep. Rest those grin muscles because I will need them again on day two.

But you know, something else could happen. I might have had to deal with some unexpected reality and decide by the time I get to Ottawa that what I really need to do is ship this car by rail or truck back to Edmonton. No problem, find the service, make the arrangements then jump onto an airplane. In life it doesn't much matter what happens to you as long as you survive it and get a good story to tell. Or so says a wise old family friend.

I know, I know, Benz fans want to hear about the CAR, the gleaming w124 320ce with the Wald front air dam, the Lorinser wheels, the AMG trim parts and the remote possibility of an actual AMG e36 motor. Sorry, I have yet to see it. It's Christmas Eve, remember?

More tomorrow, I promise, as long as I can get an internet connection at whatever place I end up staying.


UPDATE June 18:

Made it to New Liskeard, with a few adventures along the way. The car is good but not perfect, and its imperfections included the need for wheel balancing, which has been taken care of, and the sin of not wanting to start if the engine is hot, which may go away on its own after a bit more driving. Who knows? Nothing fatal, and it is a blast to drive this car. What is German for Eye-Catching?

Follow the updates on the Benzworld forum at this link.

Further updates to June 28 same link.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Brickbreaker tips: Part 2, Level 18 to Level 34

Level 18: If you launch with your aim all the way to the left the ball will eventually activate two pills on the right hand side of the inverted pyramid of bricks before bouncing back down below the horizontal line of silver bricks. With a bit of maneuvering you can get either one of those pills, or both. Remember that CATCH erases MULTI, BOMB, LASER and FLIP. If you get GUN there are lots of ways to play it. The simplest is to take out the middle three silver bricks. More sophisticated would be to take out the three bricks on one side. Taking them on your weak side might save you a LIFE at some point. LASER does you no good at all, and if you used it to erase CATCH, well, shame on you.

Level 19 has only two pills, at the bottom left and bottom right. About one round in ten it may be possible to launch the ball up through the gap, bouncing off the right edge. The rest of the time you will need a couple of bounces to get it there. The more vertical the path, the more likely it will actually hit one of the bricks you want. The more diagonal, the more likely it is that you will have eliminated the other three bricks before getting the last pill.

Level 20 looks like a pair of bookends and contains only two bricks, each of which has a pill. The way the silver bricks are organized makes it hard to hit a red brick; the only reliable way is to launch as vertically as possible up the central passage, and when the ball bounces back down, bounce it back up vertically. It will bounce off one side of the passage and after a series of almost vertical bounces off the top wall it will bounce straight down into one of the chambers, and hit the brick on the way up. After that you will just have to hang in there to get the other brick.

Level 21 feels like a gold mine after the previous couple of levels. Every brick in the top row has a pill. Launch the ball nearly vertically to the right and you will get three pills in a row and enough time to evaluate and collect them all if you want them. If you get GUN, shoot out the two silver bricks beneath the red bricks at the top left and top right. If you get LASER, start to spray the top row and the sides if you have managed to GUN out those two protective silver bricks. Remember that MULTI preserves LASER and vice-versa but that CATCH and MULTI erase each other.

Level 22 can be a pain, especially once the ball starts zipping around and the 6 trays of silver bricks start dropping in on you. No pills to be had, and this is one of the levels where BrickBreaker may surprise you by having the ball slip through between the end of a silver brick and the side wall. It is rare, but not unknown, and it will catch you completely unprepared unless you follow the ball with your paddle from side to side. In the newer "small ball" versions of Brickbreaker it is more common. This level will test your quickness and your accuracy hitting the ball on diagonals towards the small gap in the center. Do not be afraid to bounce the ball off the side wall to improve your position.

Level 23 is one that I use a different strategy for in round one compared to round two. In round one I work to get through all the bricks on one side as fast as possible, to get the ball into the top half of the screen before it speeds up and the array starts down towards me. In round two I work to knock out the middle pills first because the ball speeds up and the array drops immediately. Only the top two bricks on the screen have pills. The other bricks along the side take some cleverness to knock out. One method that works is to clean the red bricks out of the center then bounce the ball in to them from the side. If it exits upwards, chances are about 50-50 that it will hit one of the side red bricks. If you happen to get GUN, use it to take silver bricks from the side. Ideally you can get three silver bricks out of the way. If you get CATCH, then ignore the other pill, even if it is LIFE. CATCH will save you a LIFE in this level, and many other high levels.

Level 24 is another gold mine of pills, with just about every brick having one. Aim almost straight up and just keep going. If you have a chance to get LASER and there is nothing left to shoot at, it isn't much use. So if you happen to be LONG and a LASER comes by, ignore LASER and hope for a MULTI. LONG and MULTI are a great combination at any time, and you will delight yourself by learning how to keep three or four balls active at once. The last two pills in Level 24 live up at the top and can not be reached until the array starts to drop towards you. Having CATCH as one of your last settings is great, but recognize that you will get a pill from each of the top corner bricks and you should think through in advance what you will do with it. Unless it is a CATCH or a LIFE it may be worth your while to avoid the pill.

Level 25 consists of a big box in the middle of the screen and bricks above the box and in the box. The first shot in Level 25 should just miss the corner of the box, work around the top and then bounce into the box. There are usually four pills in the box and two pills in the top corners above the box. If you get GUN early in Level 25, consider picking off the bottom corners of the box just to make your life easier as the box works its way down the screen. You don't want to make a hole in the bottom of the box, just the corners.

Level 26, I swear, has changed to foil me. I used to just crank the stick over to the left and launch the ball into the channel above the silver bricks. Now the ball bounces off a brick and comes back to the paddle without going anywhere near where it used to go. It takes forever to clear the bricks out of the channel so you can get into the top third of the screen where the pills are. And as the array marches relentlessly downwards, time and space get to be a premium. Level 26 gets me on the second round, far more often than Level 16. Small ball versions of the game have plenty of chances for the ball to leak past the right side of the lower right brick, so keep your paddle under the ball.

Level 27 might as well be from a different game than Level 26. One brick, no pills, a narrow sideways gap that you have to maneuver through but once you do, it is over pretty much right away. If you don't get through, then eventually the array starts its way down the screen and you can go over the top. Round one, be patient. Round two, bounce the ball a couple of times then send it around the end of the bottom row of silver bricks and get it either through the gap or over the top.

Level 28 has a pill in almost every brick. The hard part is to have the paddle in the right place, over at the far right corner, when the pills fall from the bricks up the right hand side. Start by launching the ball almost straight up, then bounce it into the bottom right brick. Get onto the rhythm of the level, so that the ball and the paddle and the pill are in the right place at the right time. If you get GUN, take out a silver brick in the bottom row and one in the top row, then take out the silver brick directly below the brick in the box. If you get LASER, just sit at the bottom right and pour laser shots up until all those bricks are gone. Remember also that the brick inside the box also has a pill in it.

Level 29 starts with a launch to the far left, freeing whatever pill is in the brick in the first channel. In round one the ball will return and you can do it again, sending the ball down the first channel and (with any luck) up into one of the channels above. In round 2, things start to happen quickly and if the ball is not in the upper channels after your second or third hit you could be in trouble indeed. If you get GUN from one of the four pills, take out the two silver bricks up the left wall plus the second brick from the right on the bottom row.

Level 30 has three bricks, the upper two of which have pills. Aim all the way to the left and your launch ball may end up bouncing off the wall and into the top right enclosure. Chances are that it will not, however. It will fall just short and the middle brick will get hit. This means that you will capture only one of the two pills. Patience, they say, is a virtue.

Level 31 can be handled with a couple of perfect shots, where the ball bounces off the side wall and between the silver bricks but not back down where you started. All that I can suggest is that you have patience with this one. Once the ball gets through to the upper part of the screen you may not have to hit it again. No pills on Level 31.

Level 32 is almost comically easy after Level 31. Aim left, launch, send the ball back up there again and judge whether the pills that start falling are worth catching. Only the brick at the bottom right, typically the last one to be hit, has no pill in it.

Level 33 has no pills. You can start anywhere you want, but I find the bottom left works best for me because that corner is hard to get the ball to later when play is going on and things are moving quickly. As we learned much earlier, having the ball in the top half of the array when it is moving quickly is better than having it down near the bottom of the screen and being vulnerable to a bad bounce.

Level 34 has one brick and one pill. Get the ball up the right hand side, and be prepared for it to come back once or twice, but sooner or later it will wind its way through the maze and catch the brick. If you get GUN, use it right away to blast the silver brick and the red brick above it. If you get BOMB, then the next time the ball touches the brick you will find yourself back around at Level 1. SLOW isn't worth it, CATCH might help, and LONG might help. But this is not a hard level to get past. In round two Level 34 marches right down to near the bottom of the screen but in doing so it opens up the top of the screen for the ball to get through.

Each round should earn you somewhere between 15,500 and 17,500 points. But the points can be a distraction; the real secret to the game is getting LIFE after LIFE after LIFE. You will surely need these lives in round two where everything happens quickly for a while. But as you hang in there and keep the ball alive, suddenly it all slows down again. And the pace that it slows down to is the pace that every round after round two goes at, sedate and (dare I say) not very challenging, if you are playing with an older Blackberry and the large ball. Newer Blackberries with the small ball version of the game present an ongoing challenge after round 2.

Good luck. As suggested with the first half of Blackberry Brickbreaker Tips, please feel free to leave a comment about your score and the areas that give you trouble.

Brickbreaker tips: Part 1, Level 1 to Level 17

Compared to everything else on this blog put together, BlackBerry BrickBreaker tips are far and away the most common reason for visitors. We get hits from around the world. What a great, frustrating game! It is like golf for your thumb.

This set of tips is one in a series of Brickbreaker hints and techniques on Half Wisdom Half Wit. Be sure to check out the others as well:
More Blackberry Brickbreaker Tips
Brickbreaker Level 16
Blackberry Brickbreaker Addicts
Brickbreaker One More Time

The tips were first written for the original Brickbreaker game with the relatively large ball. Newer 'Berries have a small-ball game that is harder. Where I can, I have put some tips in for the newer game too. Let's start with the general things to think about, then get to some specific tips.

There are 34 levels in Brickbreaker. Most people seem to find level 16 to be especially difficult, and then level 26. If you manage to get all the way through level 34, you find yourself back at level 1. The second time through all the levels is harder than the first time through. However if you get past level 34 the second time, the whole thing gets ludicrously easy (at least the big ball version) and you can keep adding lives and points until you or your Blackberry quits on you. I had 255 lives and 650,000 points when that happened the first time. It has happened twice since then, both times after I have got through twice and made life easy.

The basics:
Each of the 34 levels looks different. Each time you play a level, you will find that the same bricks have pills. So if you know where they are you can plan your play accordingly. The very first level has only two pills, one on the left and one on the right. If you play smart, you will hit the bricks early enough to allow yourself to collect the pills, or avoid them.

The most important task in the first rounds is to collect and save LIFE pills. You will need all of them. The points that can be collected with pills or by breaking bricks do not make any difference at all, so don't chase points if it means you run the risk of losing a LIFE.

The first time through the levels, game play speeds up after a few dozen bricks are hit, then returns to its original slow pace after a few dozen more hits. And the whole array of bricks starts to drop down each time the ball returns to your paddle. If you get past level 34 and go through again, the game speeds up and the bricks begin to drop right away. In either case, if you lose a LIFE, the whole sequence of speeding up and dropping resets and begins again. And if you catch a SLOW, there will be a further episode of speeding up to contend with.

These patterns always take place, so you have to choose your strategy to match what is happening and your own paddle skills.

Let's look at Level 16 specifically, to illustrate what is going on. Level 16 consists of a big U-shaped container of silver bricks. When you start, it is important to get the ball up one side and onto the top as quickly as possible. The middle brick at the top is the only one that has a pill. The first challenge after the pill is on its way is to judge whether you want it (CATCH, LIFE, GUN, SLOW, BOMB, LONG) or are indifferent (LASER) or want to avoid it (FLIP, and also WRAP if it causes you trouble). According to your choice, then figure out how to have the ball up the side or actually in the bricks, and your paddle in the right location, when the pill reaches the bottom of the screen.

Remember that the first time you go through, there are a couple of dozen hits before the array starts its way down towards you. If you have lots of lives, you may find it to your advantage to sacrifice a LIFE in order to keep the pace slow. This strategy does not work the second time through, as the drop-down and speeding-up begins immediately.

However if you can get the ball bouncing around in the heart of the bricks, you may find that things slow down the next time that the ball gets to your paddle. If that happens, your best strategy is to keep the ball in play even with the array marching down towards you every time the paddle strikes the ball.

The hardest part of Level 16, as well as Levels 13, 17, 26 and others, is when the solid horizontal array of silver bricks is just above the paddle. Even a slow-moving ball is hard to keep in play. This skill, however, is the most important skill to work on, and you will begin to do better at Brickbreaker when you get more comfortable in tight quarters.

The best pill to get in these cases is CATCH. The second best is generally GUN, assuming you have enough time and space to use the GUN to clear away strategic silver bricks. I like GUN because even if you lose a LIFE, the bricks that the GUN cleared away stay cleared away, so you can set yourself up for an easier time to finish that level.

So to summarize the general instructions:
1) Learn where the bonus pills are in each level and plan your play accordingly. Set yourself up to get bonus pills in time to use them (ie while there are still other bricks around).
2) Learn how long it takes before the game speeds up and the array starts dropping. Note that both of these are temporary conditions, as the game will slow down again and the array will stop dropping as long as you keep the ball in play. After you lose a LIFE those conditions reset and begin again.
3) Learn to handle the ball in tight spaces below a horizontal line of silver bricks. Learn at least to panic less...

Now, some specific instructions.
Level 1: start with the stick aimed fully to the left. This usually ends up with the ball hitting the left side's pill brick and then getting a good chance to hit the top right pill brick.

Level 2:
send the ball up the left side to just miss the left most brick. It will drop in and hit a pill brick and go to a position that gives you choices about what to do with the first pill.

Level 3:
aim fully to the right to get started. The ball will bounce up and pick off two pills on the right side, then stay up the screen long enough to allow you to collect the pills. Watch carefully in case a FLIP is one of the pills.

Level 4:
lots of ways to play this level. Practice a launch that gets as many bounces as possible before the ball gets back to your paddle. This is useful knowledge as it will help get past the fast phase of each level.

Level 5:
This is the first level that features an unbreakable silver brick. I usually aim left, trying to just miss the bottom left brick and getting around to bounce under the top row of bricks. This usually results in a pill from either near the top right of the array, or the bottom right. If you are lucky enough to get a LASER, use it liberally to take out bricks. If you get GUN, use one of its 3 shots to take out the silver brick, making finishing the level easier.

Level 6:
My preference is to work on one side of the screen to open the end of the space between the rows. Once the ball is rattling around between the rows there will be three pills available, from the middle of the screen. Again, getting lots of bounces early is the secret to getting past the temporary speed-up phase of this level. If you get GUN or LASER, pick off the end bricks first.

Level 7:
This level looks a bit like a rabbit with a red nose, so if you can visualize that, you can follow these instructions. There are pills in the tips of the ears and in the nose, as well as a couple in the cheeks. Organize your play to get the ball up to the tops of the ears so that you have time to work with the pills. I usually start by aiming as close to straight up as possible.

Level 8:
This level has no pills. If you launch just to the left of vertical, you may get the ball to pass between two bricks and start rattling around in the top part of the screen. You can also aim between the left-most brick and its neighbor. This gets the all-important bounces happening without you being at risk of a high speed encounter close to your paddle. Do what you can to keep the ball in the top half of the screen until it slows down. Note also that a ball moving in either direction on the diagonal between top left and bottom right may pass between bricks that you thought it was going to bounce off. Lastly, if you are down to just a few bricks and the ball is moving really fast, get it up into the top half of the screen as much as possible rather than risk bouncing off the bottom of a nearby brick and costing you a LIFE.

From Level 8 upwards, getting the ball above the red bricks and having it bounce between the top wall and the bricks is a practice that will help keep you out of trouble.

Level 9: The two top bricks have pills, as does one entire row a couple of bricks from the top. So practice launching to the right so the ball bounces up the side, skips off the brick at the top right and goes across to the top left. With luck you will get at least two pills, and possibly three, before the ball gets back down to your paddle. Keep the ball in the top half of the screen to improve your chances of avoiding a dangerous bounce near the bottom of the screen. Practicing this skill will come in handy as you work up through the levels.

Level 10: This level has no pills, and consists of a box with two decayed bricks on each side keeping you from getting on top of it where the ball can do some good without you needing to steer it with the paddle. So launch all the way to the left or the right, knock out the decayed bricks (but just on one side) and do some damage to the top of the box. Eventually the ball will end up inside either through the top or through the side you launched on, and do all the work for you. If you leave the decayed bricks in place on the other side, they will help you keep the ball up top for two more bounces than you would have got otherwise.

By now you may be noticing that the ball does not bounce the way you might expect it to. Sometimes weird things happen either off the walls or off the paddle. It is really noticeable when there are just a couple of bricks left and you are trying to pick them off. Try bouncing the ball AWAY from the target brick and letting it carom off a couple of walls. Patience helps too.

Level 11: Start all the way to the right and let the ball work its way up the side and across the top. The middle brick in the second row from the top has a pill in it, as do the third bricks from the top on each side. Keep the ball on top of the bricks, and if you have LASER or GUN go after the middle column of bricks. This will help you the most if the array works its way to the bottom of the screen.

Let's say we have LASER and the ball hits a brick with a CATCH pill in it. Should you take the CATCH pill or deliberately avoid it? In my view CATCH is really important when the ball is moving quickly or when there are lots of silver bricks near the bottom of the screen. LASER is great for eliminating red bricks quickly. Up to about level 11 and 12 I greatly favor the LASER, but my appreciation for CATCH really grows as we get to the levels where the number of silver bricks increases.

While we are thinking about which pills to collect and which to avoid, note that MULTI goes well with LASER, LONG and SLOW. But if you have MULTI balls in play, CATCH and BOMB will make all but one of them simply disappear. Not usually good.

Level 12: This level looks a bit like Level 11 but plays quite differently. The brick on the top left, and the third brick from the bottom left, both contain pills. I start with the third brick from the left, collect the pill if it is the right kind, collect the pill from the top left, and do my best to clean out the remnants of the brick at the top left so that the ball can get between the array and the top row. A couple of bricks above the first target brick is another pill, so cleaning out that column from the bottom up is "plan B" if I can't quite get up the left hand side. Let the ball rattle around up top for as much time as it takes to get past the fast phase of this level. The middle brick at the top also has a pill, as do a few others in the pack.

Level 13: This is the first of the impenetrable-bottom-row levels, and it has no pills or other redeeming features. Roll your trackball all the way to the left and then go back one click to the right, to launch the ball so that it just clears the bottom left corner of the silver bricks. This should get the ball up and into the box, where about a quarter of the time it will do a lot of damage before bouncing out. I have occasionally got completely through this level without ever having the ball leave the box. But more often, the ball goes back out after hitting a few bricks and makes a nuisance of itself as you try to get it back in.

Level 14: Here you have a lot of silver bricks, and only three pills. The first pill to go after is halfway up the left side. Launch the ball all the way to the left and most of the time it will hit the pill-holding brick after bouncing off the left wall. If you happen to get LASER, use it first to clean up the bricks at the bottom left. Try to keep the ball in the top half of the screen as much as possible until it finally slows down. The remaining two pills are in the bottom right of the screen. If you are careless you can get your paddle stuck under here keeping the ball in play while FLIP rains down on you. If you had LASER with the first pill, use it to take care of all of the right hand brick before the pill lands and changes your paddle. Then go after the other pill beside the first one. If you have GUN, take out the left hand silver brick of that pair and the brick at the bottom left of the screen if there are any red bricks left above it.

Level 15 (the big Plus sign): There are only two pills, and they are just above the cross bar on each side. The best move is to launch the ball off the silver brick and have it bounce slightly to the right. Then bounce the ball up off the right wall so that it takes out the middle red brick in the top right quadrant. This will then lead to the pill brick being struck. Many people make the mistake at Level 15 of clearing out all the bricks below the crossbar before they get to the pills. This will lead to disappointment if one or both the pills happens to be a LIFE, which you will want for Level 16. If the first pill is GUN and you have several bricks in different places, conserve the ammunition until you have cleared out one or more of the bricks below the other pill. Then fire 3 quick shots and claim the other pill.

In the small-ball version, the best start is just past the left cross-bar and off the walls so that it takes out the middle brick in the top left quadrant.

Level 16 (the big U): We covered the general strategy for Level 16 in the introduction to this posting. This is the hardest level for Brickbreaker beginners because inevitably the ball ends up bouncing at super high speed in a very confined area below the bottom bar. Aim all the way left to start.

If you get GUN, take out the three middle bottom silver bricks. This will give you a chance to get and keep the ball in play. An alternative is to take out the middle brick and the two on its left or its right. Taking out a corner brick on this level may make it easier for you to get the ball up the side wall. A third alternative to try is to blast the silver brick that is to the right of the middle brick, and the two red bricks above it. This can keep the ball rattling around inside for long periods.

Before the array in Level 16 has made its way down to the bottom of the screen, you should try to send the ball up the side walls as vertically as possible so that when it gets into the inside of the U it stays for a while. But as the array moves down, you will begin to appreciate a zig-zag pattern where the ball bounces off as many interior bricks as possible. Of course, you will also find that a zig-zag up the right side wall may arc all the way across the top of the U and down the left side without getting a single touch inside the U. This is the Blackberry designer's way of laughing at you...

This is a good time to mention that most of us tend to favor one side or the other when it comes to using the paddle. For me, I like going up the right side, or bouncing the ball off the right side of the paddle. I feel more control, somehow. It may just be my imagination, but Brickbreaker seems to know this and throws some trick bounces at me. On the newer small-ball versions of Brickbreaker there is definitely more room on the right side of Level 16 than there is on the left.

Level 17 is the first level where there is more than one impenetrable horizontal row of silver bricks. You will find yourself watching the ball go back and forth up there beyond your control. I always launch a ball slightly to the right of vertical, then bounce it diagonally off the right wall and into the first channel. With any luck you will get it to bounce along to the left, off the left wall and along to the right, then off the right wall and up and into the red bricks at the top. Chances are the ball will hit only a few times before it comes back down to you. If it has had enough bounces, the whole array will start to come down towards you. This is a good thing because it is a lot easier to break bricks in this level when there is open space above the bricks where the ball can rattle around.

The second time through Level 17, things are different. Because all of the second round games feature the array dropping, and the ball speeding up, as soon as the paddle touches the ball after you launch it, Level 17 takes away your time and space very quickly. In second round games, I launch the ball vertically, bounce it at least once as vertically as possible, then bounce it around the corner. If I do this right I get a lot of action up top and by the time the ball is returned to me many bricks have been broken but, more importantly, the game is ready to slow down again.

OK, we are half way there. Let's pause and take a break. Remember to pause Brickbreaker in mid-game not at the beginning of a level. At the start of a level, at least on my Blackberry, the game never really goes to sleep when you exit. It only truly pauses if you exit during a level, while play is going on.

If you have read this far, please accept my thanks. Why not leave a comment saying what your current high score is and where you seem to have the most trouble in BrickBreaker? If today's suggestions have been helpful, come on back and leave another comment saying what happened. And if you have some tips and tricks, please share them with the rest of us Blackberry Brickbreaker Addicts.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Satellite Temperatures' Inconvenient Truth

I believe this picture is worth a thousand words. Not much sign of that runaway global warming thing that we used to hear so much about...

PKD, if you are reading this, your comments are currently blocked due to your insistence on being obnoxious.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Literal Video: Total eclipse of the heart

You saw this video in the 1980s, and I am going to bet that the whole music video thing was so new that you were willing to look past the contrivances and general weirdness that went into the genre at the time. But now, in the cold light of a quarter century later, why not question what you once thought was cool.

Introducing Literal Videos, found on Neatorama. Smarty pants commentary, right on screen, set to that timeless music....

Monday, June 08, 2009

Top 12 Indicators that the Economy is Bad

12. CEO’s are now playing miniature golf.
11. I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.
10. I went to buy a toaster oven and they gave me a bank.
9. Hotwheels and Matchbox car companies are now trading higher than GM in the stock market.
8. Obama met with small businesses - GE, Pfizer, Chrysler, Citigroup and GM, to discuss the Stimulus Package.
7. McDonalds is selling the 1/4 ouncer.
6. People in Beverly Hills fired their nannies and are learning their children’s names.
5. The most highly-paid job is now jury duty.
4. People in Africa are donating money to Americans. Mothers in Ethiopia are telling their kids, “finish your plate; do you know how many kids are starving inAmerica?”
3. Motel Six won’t leave the lights on.
2. The Mafia is laying off judges.
1. If the bank returns your check marked as “insufficient funds,” you have to call them and ask if they meant you or them.

From Jim Sinclair's Mineset

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The quality of potatoness

The quality of potatoness is not strained.
It extrudeth, as a Pringle pushed from heaven,
Upon the place beneath. 'Tis form'd and baked.
It taxeth him that sells and him that takes.

(Sorry, William Shakespeare. But when one reads about the "quality of potatoness", what should one do?)

Pringles has been declared a "Potato Crisp" (= "potato chip") in England, exposing it to value added taxes whose accumulated deferral amounts to over $160 million, according to the New York Times.

Procter & Gamble's lawyer attempted to argue that Pringles, being less than 50% potato flour, lacked the full "quality of potatoness" that characterizes Potato Crisps, and should more correctly be considered a savoury snack, and hence not subject to the Potato Crisp tax.

What was the Pringles tag line when they were introduced? "Pringles, the new fangled potato chip" P&G, take your medicine, pay the 15% additional tax, and brush up on how to act with integrity, already.

Trivia footnote from the Wiki article: the designer of the Pringles can, one Fredric J. Baur, was cremated and his ashes were buried in a Pringles can.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Updated: NSIDC keeps banging the global warming drum

(Updated with the first chart, below, plus the half-wise verbiage of the first paragraphs).
My erstwhile Antipodean shadow PKD has brought to my attention the June 2009 examples of the NSIDC's editorials, entitled "Melt Season Gains Momentum". His series of observations is in his unique style in the comments section at the bottom, or would have been had I not clumsily deleted the whole string of ten comments while trying to update the blog.

Any one of us can be accused of cherry picking data, I am sure (even you, PKD!), so in the spirit of cherry picking let me just use the NSIDC's words and illustration, and add that May's ice extent using NSIDC data looks to be about the same as 1990 and is higher than all but four of the past 19 years. If this is a trend, I think we can live with it. NSIDC helpfully plots the downward trend from 1979, a year whose only significance is that satellite data became available, then goes on to say:

May 2009 compared to past Mays

Compared to previous Mays, ice extent in May 2009 is about average. Over the last four years, May ice extent has increased.


Here is the original blog posting from a month ago:

Give the National Snow and Ice Data Center full marks for consistency. But not for objectivity, at least not for objectively presenting their own data.


Take their May 4 2009 update of sea ice extent. The chart shows 2009 ice extent approaching the average for the period 1979-2000, which NSIDC uses as a consistent benchmark. The start of the period corresponds with the beginning of satellite measurement of ice extent. The accompanying summary states:
Arctic sea ice extent declined quite slowly in April; as a result, total ice extent is now close to the mean extent for the reference period (1979 to 2000). The thin spring ice cover nevertheless remains vulnerable to summer melt.
So don't stop worrying about global warming just yet, dear reader, because this ice could melt! Could it melt more readily than spring ice from other years? Yes, NSIDC declared a month ago:
the melt season has begun with a substantial amount of thin first-year ice, which is vulnerable to summer melt.
If temperatures remain below average (a condition which the NSIDC has finally acknowledged) then somehow the thin first-year ice may survive and become second-year ice, with any luck less "vulnerable to summer melt". But again, don't count on it, according to the NSIDC
...conditions may not always favor the survival of second-year and older ice. Each winter, winds and ocean currents move some sea ice out of the Arctic ocean.
Reading this, one would think that once there was a patch of open water the whole place turns liquid faster than you can say "Save us, Al Gore!" This is consistent with climate modelers' worldviews that climate feedbacks are positive and once a change has been set in motion there is no stopping it.

Think about that.

In geologic time frames our plucky blue planet has been brass monkey cold, and stinking hot, and every temperature in between. If the feedbacks were positive, once we started heading towards hot we would just keep going until we made ashes of ourselves. We would not BE here if climate feedbacks were positive.

Back to the NSIDC and its little report. Recall in the opening quote that they call 1979-2000 their "reference period". This is nice and neutral. If the same organization referred to a "long term decline" in their same article, how would you think this related to the reference period?

Below is the chart that covers the putative long term decline. The astute reader will note that while it comes from the same organization, the data and trend line extend into 2009. The reader would then wonder why the last eight full years are not included in the reference data, as they would most certainly confirm that ice extent is above overall average levels calculated from all data at hand. From the chart, ice extent appears higher than any April in the last decade.

The informed reader would also observe that the beginning of the period of satellite observations coincides with the end of the cold period that began in 1940 and covered almost 4 decades during which CO2 levels steadily climbed while temperatures dropped, but that is a topic for another day. It is no wonder that ice extent started high and dropped for a while.
Trends are not destiny. Ocean temperatures and atmospheric temperatures have both signalled that the warming trends of the NSIDC reference period have reversed and heat energy is being lost from the earth and its atmosphere, not accumulating as many have been led to believe.

There is more ice now than there has been in a decade. Don't be surprised by this. And consider the possibility that there will be even more ice next year and next decade as solar activity, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and heaven knows what other mechanisms exert their normal will on us.

Then consider whether a colder planet is such a welcome prospect. I can imagine a time within ten years when we are struggling to feed our population and someone will suggest increasing CO2 emissions to enhance crop yields and maybe warm the place up a bit.