Speculation re Future of 13-inch MacBook Pro

Peter Cohen and I had a brief exchange on Facebook/Twitter regarding my speculation about the future of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. For the benefit of those of you not on Facebook, here is a repost of the conversation:

Ted Landau
Idle speculation: Might Apple discontinue 13″ MacBook Pro when updates come out — directing that market to MacBook Air?

Peter Cohen
Interesting idea. Or, what will styling cues and technical changes will the 13-inch MacBook Pro inherit from the MBA?

Ted Landau
Yes. There are now three different 13″ MacBook models: white, Pro and Air. Each other size only has one model. Do we really need three 13″ models? Can Apple redesign the 13″ MacBook Pro to be more like the Air without it being TOO much like the Air? Seemed to me like eliminating the 13″ Pro would be the simplest answer.

Peter Cohen
You’re right – the 13-inch form factor is suddenly very crowded. You speak sense, Ted – the 13-inch MBP is suddenly looking very redundant. Of course, if Apple does something significant to differentiate a 13-inch MBP from the MBA or the MB, that’s a different story…i.e., Sandy Bridge, USB 3, 3D holographic display, sharks with laz0rs, etc.

Update: February 24: Turns out, I was wrong. The new MacBook Pro models announced today include a 13-inch version.

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Rovio Applies “Spot” Remover to Angry Birds Seasons

It’s over. Angry Birds magic spots: RIP.

In a previous posting, I revealed the secret behind magic spots in the Seasons Greedings section of Angry Birds Seasons. In essence, if a bird hit a specific location in just the right way, a Santa-hatted pig would tilt and explode with atypical force, resulting in much more damage and a much higher score than otherwise possible.

There had been some discussion on the web as to whether or not these spots were an unintended bug (perhaps left over from some internal testing version of the game) or a deliberate feature. I hopefully opted for the latter view. I was wrong.

Today, I received a reply from Rovio (the creators of Angry Birds) confirming what I had already suspected from my own recent play: the magic spots were removed as part of the Valentines (Hogs and Kisses) update to Angry Birds Seasons. The Rovio developer added: “Sadly, it was a bug in the system and we needed to fix it to make things work regarding long term updates.”

I can’t argue with a developer wanting to fix a bug. But it does present a dilemma for the subset of Angry Birds players interested in attaining a top score on the Game Center Leaderboard. If you hope to make it anywhere near the very top (at least the top 100), you’ll need the big scores that come from hitting the magic spots. This means that, if you are new to Angry Birds Seasons, you can forget ever reaching the upper echelon of the Leaderboard. Similarly, if you are an established player and had hoped to improve your standing by getting better magic spot scores, you can forget that as well (I include myself in this latter group, despite the fact that I am fortunate enough to already have one of the very top scores).

This is disappointing and, in some sense, unfair — as it gives a lucky subset of Angry Birds players an advantage over everyone else. But there is nothing to be done about it. Rovio has applied spot remover to the bug/feature and it’s game over.

[Speaking of top scores, I have read that it is possible to “hack” at least some versions of Angry Birds — allowing you to get high scores by cheating. The most egregious examples of this are in Angry Birds for the iPhone; the top score today is a clearly hacked 40,000,001,090,256,896. If possible, when such impossibly high scores are detected, I’d like to see them removed from the Leaderboard.]

Update: If you really want to access these magic spots again, you might yet be able to do so — if you still have the prior 1.1.1 version of Seasons. To accomplish this trick, you need to downgrade the app on your iOS device back to the old version. When you are done, you can re-upgrade to the latest version again. The only question is: Will this mess up your high score data (because the downgraded version is “unaware” of the Hogs & Kisses section)? I haven’t tried this yet, so I can’t say for certain. But I suspect not. However, to be safe, make sure you have saved a copy of the high-scores file (highscores.lua) so you can put it back if needed.

Posted in Entertainment, iPhone | 2 Comments

Great Opening Scenes

With the Academy Awards coming up later this month, my attention has turned (more than usual) to movies. I often like to come up with “favorites” lists…such as “What are my favorite movie quotes?” or “What are my favorite movie theme songs?” The other day, a new one cropped up: “What are my favorite opening scenes?” That is, what are the opening scenes that grabbed me right out of the gate, scenes so good that I load the movie’s DVD just so I can play that scene and enjoy it all again?

In putting together a list, I discovered that, for some movies, the opening scene was the best part of the movie; it was all downhill from there. In other cases, the scene was just the initial salvo of the overall great movie that would follow. In either case, here are some of my favorites (in no particular order):

Cliffhanger. This almost defines great opening scenes. The rescue sequence on the rope line conveyed a sense of vertigo and terror that still lives with me today. Unfortunately, this was one of those instances where the rest of the film turned out to be disappointing in comparison.

Silverado. The claustrophobic shoot-out in the cabin, without a spoken word, was spectacularly filmed. When Scott Glenn leaves the cabin and the camera opens up to show the vast western panorama…just super!

West Side Story. A helicopter view of Manhantan, with Leonard Bernstein’s great music playing. The camera travels and eventually zooms in on the Jets in a playground. Thrilling. No stage version could top that for a kick off.

From Russia With Love. The opening scenes in James Bond movies are so distinctive that they almost deserve their own category. It’s hard for me to pick my absolute favorite. Still, I’d go with From Russia With Love. In this scene, it appears as if James Bond has been killed. How could this be? And then…(I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen the movie).

My James Bond runner-up would be The Spy Who Loved Me. The ski sequence (although not quite the very opening, it’s still before the titles run) is one of the best: great action without being so over-the-top as to be unintentionally funny.

Mission Impossible I. I loved the opening sequence to this first Mission Impossible movie because (unlike much of the rest of the movie and totally unlike any of the sequels), it actually follows the format used in the TV show. I especially liked the fade to the match lighting and original Mission Impossible theme music. Yes! The sequels abandoned this…to their detriment.

The Godfather. The opening shot of the face of the mortician (“I love America”) and eventually panning out to show Marlon Brando as the Godfather. The shift from the quiet and dark light of the office to the noise and daylight outside. Great cinematography. About as memorable as opening scenes get.

Actually, the scene is a bit reminiscent of the opening poker game sequence in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I guess should also be on this list.

Jaws. The scene where the young woman gets…well…eaten by the shark was enough to keep much of America out of the water for years to come.

Saving Private Ryan. In my opinion, the D-Day beach landing remains the most heart-pounding realistic battle scene ever recorded on film.

French Kiss. I noticed there weren’t any comedies here. Maybe it’s not a genre that aspires to great opening scenes. Anyway, French Kiss is at least in the ballpark. The scene on the airplane, with Meg Ryan trying to conquer her fear of flying. And then the punchline: we discover that she really isn’t on a plane at all. Classic.

I gave some thought to adding Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark to this list. But I decided that, as much as I liked them, the opening sequences went on for too long, amounting to more than a “scene” — even by my liberal standards.

I’m sure there are other movies I’m forgetting. But these are the ones that first came to mind.

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Giffords’ Progress and “Miracles”

A recent New York Times article covered the “remarkable progress” of Representative Gabrielle Giffords following the shooting in Tucson:

“In response to a reporter’s question about whether Ms. Giffords’s recovery might be considered miraculous, Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr., the hospital’s chief of neurosurgery said, ‘Miracles happen every day, and in medicine, we like to attribute them to what we do or what others do around us. A lot of medicine is outside our control. We are wise to acknowledge miracles.'”

Overall, I thought this was an appropriate and reasonable reply. However, given that I am not under the same political and public relations constraints as Dr. Lemole, I would go considerably further:

I don’t believe there is a God that takes a personal interest in the welfare of Representative Giffords. If I believed otherwise, I would then have to ask where was this God during the shooting at the supermarket? If he is so interested in performing miracles on behalf of Rep. Giffords, why didn’t he prevent her from being shot in the first place? And why did he let five other innocent people, including a 9-year-old-girl, meet their death? If God wasn’t willing to prevent this tragedy, there is little reason to believe he has been paying visits to Rep. Giffords’ hospital room.

It is true that Rep. Giffords’ progress is unusual, much more positive at this point than doctors would have expected or predicted. But this does not make it “miraculous” — at least not in any religious sense of the word. Otherwise, we’d also have to look at the equally unusual, unexpected and unpredicted terrible things that occur in hospitals. Things such as the people who “mysteriously” die on the table during what was supposed to be an uneventful routine surgery. Are we to call these miracles as well? Or curses? Or what?

On balance, it seems better to just leave miracles and religion out of the equation altogether. There is always variability in outcomes. Some patients do better than we expect. Others do worse. There is nothing unusual in this. Any surprise in Rep. Giffords’ progress is a consequence of our continuing ignorance, a reminder of how little we still know and how much we have yet to learn about how our bodies work.

I am grateful that Ms. Giffords is doing so well. Her progress is the result of the skilled and hard work of her medical staff, the quick assistance she received from people at the scene of the shooting — and some good fortune regarding the specifics of her injury. Let’s leave it at that.

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