In case there was any doubt, I have just proven incontrovertibly that I am a person who has more money than sense. I bought a Roomba.

What can I say? I had a moment of weakness. It's a robot that runs around your house. I can't be expected to resist something like that indefinitely! What am I, made of stone?

It's really, really cute. I spent the first ten minutes just following it around and giggling. I kept rooting for it every time it got stuck somewhere: "Oh no! Turn left, little guy! Turn left! You can do it, I know you can!"

Also, it communicates in R2D2-esque beeps. When it starts up, it plays a little, "let's go!" tune; it beeps like a truck when it backs up; and when it runs out of juice it goes, "uh oh!" There's a handy translation key. (In fact, I think they're missing a great branding opportunity by not making these things look even more like the Millenium Falcon.)

Oh, also it vaccuums. It seems to do a decent, if slow, job of that, and it hasn't gotten stuck yet. I have seen it successfully swallow pistachio shells and pennies. It always seems to find its way out of tight spots (though it fought one chair for a good long time.) I'm impressed at its ability to not get completely discombobulated by cables and loose stacks of paper.

It doesn't follow any kind of easily-discernable pattern when tooling around the room, so it's kind of hard to guess how long it'd have to run before there was a statistical likelihood that the whole room had been vaccuumed. There might be some spots it never found, but I'm not sure. (It's a Heisenvaccuum!)

But, cuteness only goes so far. I'm afraid it's not quite good enough, yet...

  • Battery life is terrible. It seems like you get about an hour of run-time out of three hours of charge. I'd guess that it would have to run for about four hours to have cleaned the main room of my apartment (not counting the bedroom and bathroom.)
  • That wouldn't be a problem if the docking station worked, but it doesn't. In theory, it's supposed to return to the dock when it's running out of juice, then continue. But I have never once seen it dock successfully. I've seen it get with six inches of the dock, turn around, and look for it elsewhere. It just doesn't work at all. (I've tried putting the dock in several different spots, so it's not just a reflection problem or something.)

  • Besides which, it finds the dock by an IR beacon, which means that if the dock is around the corner when it starts running low, you're screwed. Roomba doesn't build a map, so it won't know how to find its way home if it can't see it.

  • Even if all of the above worked: there's no timer. Shouldn't your autonymous robo-maid be smart enough to clean up every monday at noon while you're not home? And make me a cocktail?

So, it's cute, but in no way practical. I don't think it will result in my apartment being cleaner. As far as robotic enjoyment per unit dollar goes, I think I get more pleasure out of my paper shredder. (Especially when there are CDs or credit cards involved. Mmmm, crunchy!)

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Studios Sue Pixar, Demand Bad Movie

The eight major Hollywood studios have filed suit against CGI animation company Pixar for its consistent record of quality movies. The complaint alleges that with its sixth consecutive profitable and critically acclaimed film in "The Incredibles," Pixar is overturning a decades-long public relations campaign waged by Hollywood studios to convince the public that it's impossible to consistently make high quality films. "If Pixar doesn't get with the program, we're going to have to fundamentally change the way we do business," groused Paramount chairwoman Sherry Lansing, whose studio hasn't produced a hit film in several years. "I repeat my recommendation to Steve Jobs that he pay John Travolta and Halle Berry $20 million each to provide voices for an effects-laden remake of `The Fox and the Hound."'

why does congress hate america?

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill:

Several lobbying camps from different industries and ideologies are joining forces to fight an overhaul of copyright law [...] which Congress might try to push through during a lame-duck session that begins this week.

The bill lumps together several pending copyright bills [...] which would criminally punish a person who "infringes a copyright by ... offering for distribution to the public by electronic means, with reckless disregard of the risk of further infringement."

The bill would also permit people to use technology to skip objectionable content -- like a gory or sexually explicit scene -- in films, a right that consumers already have. However, under the proposed law, skipping any commercials or promotional announcements would be prohibited.

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duck butts for your ceiling

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Gang of 4 back from the dead, again

The original line-up of Jon King, Andy Gill, Dave Allen and Hugo Burnham will now reunite for a string of British dates in the new year. The dates are: Manchester Academy (January 23), Leeds University (24), Bristol Academy (27), Birmingham Academy (27) and London Shepherd's Bush Empire (28).

    (I have twice held in my hands tickets to see Gang of 4, and both times, the tour melted down before they made it to the west coast.)