Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I could have gone all day...

without learning what "priapism" meant.

Thanks, Cialis commerical. I appreciate it a whole lot.

In other news, remember Orson Scott Card's Review of Everything? He's posted a discussion of what he calls "academic music." I have my own terms for this sort of music, the least colorful of which is "Jean music" after my old band director, Jack Jean. He was a nice guy and a pretty good conductor, but he was enamored with contemporary band pieces. And by contemporary, I don't mean the word in its strictest sense (produced currently; there has been plenty of this crap turning up for about a decade), but I refer to the modern trend in music, which is "make it sound like nothing; the less sense it makes, the better."

Apparently, Mr. Card feels the same way I do about this sort of music. Read his review of it here by scrolling down to the "academic music" section. (If you read the other parts of that week's review, remember that Orson Scott Card is very conservative and biased in favor of Christianity, and that 24 is a totally badass show.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

On Postpathy: Apathy and Current Thought

Professor Dodd (my econ professor) said something interesting the other day. No, it wasn't "Markets function best when everyone acts in their own self-interest" (but he did say that! Ten points for Dodd!). Centuries ago, in Europe, people would sit around coffeehouses and discuss philosophical issues. Now, this is a well-known fact if you've read the Baroque Cycle (and the inherent connection to economics is immediately obvious). If not, then yes, Professor Dodd is right; people did do that. He continued with "Now we might think, why waste your time with that?" And because at this point I was already thinking about the Baroque Cycle, I started to think that popular topics of thought sure have changed over the years.

It's almost like popular thought has devolved from "We can know everything" (Enlightenment, and into Romanticism and Transcendentalism) to "We can't know everything with certainty" to "Why bother trying to know" (Nihilism) to "Huh? There was some guy who said we we can't know everything?" (Yes, there was some guy who said that. His name was Heisenberg. His Uncertainty Principle stated that it's impossible to know the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously. Scientifically, this meant that quantum applications were going to have severe limitations; on a broader philosophical scale, this seemed to imply that scientific knowledge had advanced to the point that nothing else could ever be learned with certainty. That human knowledge had progressed to its furthest absolute and everything else was only an untestable hypothesis.)

But I highly doubt the average person you talk to has any idea what Nihilism is. They only know that it expends way too much effort to actually think about things. If we're beyond the postmodern era, then we're into the "post-caring about anything" era. The Contemporary Postpathy, if you will. And it's more widespread than you might think. I blasted my alma mater, good Shiloh High School, for its studenty body's widespread lack of caring about anything. Now I realize that there are a lot of people in a lot of places who don't care about anything (and I was, to a certain extent, wrong about Shiloh. More on that later.) Some people would attack this apathy as an outgrowth of "consumerism" (a load of crap), some would see it as an extent of whatever sort of "social breakdown" they allege is going on in America (yeah, and there's evidence of that. Right.). I can't explain Postpathy. I can only observe that it's the trend in contemporary thought, and that it's not a promising trend.

And what have I observed? Well, you've got Leno's Jaywalking; Hannity has something similar that he calls Man on the Street. Basically, they demonstrate that most people do not know who the Vice President is, let alone the Secretary of State, the Speaker of the House, or anyone who actually makes decisions on a regular basis. There's a second problem, one that I see as more serious, that involves a lack of ability or willingness to think about higher-level matters. People don't have passion anymore; they don't care about ideas. And that's a shame.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pursuant to Mr. Simmons' Suggestion

The best Firefox addons, or at the least the ones I like the best, are as follows:

Gmail notifier: This handy little addon goes into the bottom status bar. It's very simple: a small notification pane shows up whenever you get a Gmail message. (If you haven't already switched to Gmail from whatever crappy email service you use, do so immediately.) Now some people aren't going to like this because they'll find it invasive, intrusive, or whatever. I personally think it's genius. Email, cell phone, and AIM are the three ways I do most of my nonpersonal communication. Two of those are immediate, as in I get notified every time I get a cell phone call or a AIM message. Now I also get notified with each Gmail.

Adblock: You know how Norton Internet Security comes with a fancyoption that basically lets you drag and drop web ads into it so they'll never show up again? Adblock basically does the same thing. You can click the Adblock button in the bottom status bar (conveniently next to the Gmail notifier) and permanently block a certain image or frame from appearing. Or, you can block an entire domain worth of crap from showing up. Very nice not to be accosted with ads every time I try to go to a website.

ForecastFox: So there are a lot of weather tools out there. Most of them are adware or suchlike crap. ForecastFox is not. It's pretty much self-explanatory: you input a zip code, you get the current weather as well as the next two or three days forecast at the bottom of Firefox. So in the morning, if I want to know how much I'm going to freeze on the way to Biology, I'll be able to.

IE View: As previously stated, Firefox is a superior browser to IE. But some people seem not to have caught on to that yet. Even some web developers haven't caught on to that yet. So a few websites don't work in Firefox as well as they're intended to. IE View adds an option to the right click menu that lest you see a current page in IE, should you ever have to subject youself to that horrific fate.

Additionally, even though it's not an addon per se, the search bar deserves a special mention. It's got Google, of course. But you can expand it to include IMDB, Webster's dictionary, Urban dictionary, Wikipedia, Amazon, and all sorts of wonderful places. In IE, one would have to open a new window, go to IMDB (for example), then use the search box there; in Firefox, you can merely type a search string into the bar, press enter, and have the results show up in a new tab.

So there you have it. 5 reasons that Firefox is the browser you have no excuse not to use.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Incomprehensible at Any Speed

Review: Underworld: Evolution

That phrase was coined by the FBI in its investigation of "Louie, Louie" to determine if the song contained inappropriate lyrics. Incidentally, Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed came out within a few years of that investigation. I'm not sure if the two are somehow related. Either way, I'd now like to apply that same phrase to Underworld: Evolution.

As a caveat and disclaimer, I have not seen the first Underworld movie. I've been told that the second makes a lot more sense if you've seen the first, and I'll have to assume this is true.

As I understand it, the plot for the first Underworld is basically as follows:
A bunch of werewolves and vampires want to kill each other.
Violence ensues.
Kate Beckinsale is hot.

Now I will attempt to summarize my reaction to the second (having not seen the first):
"Wait, okay, so Viktor and Markus, now who are they again? Isn't one of them dead?"
"Huh? Guy on a boat? What the heck?"
"That guy's head just got sliced open!"
"Kraven? Tanis? You mean there are more characters to keep track of?"
"Okay, now what's this flashing back to?"
"Kate Beckinsale is hot."

So lesson number one learned? See the original before seeing the sequel. Always.

Now, even if I had understood what was going on, I'm not sure I would have thought this movie was all that great. The sex scenes were wholly unnecessary to the plot (as sex scenes almost always are). The action was decent, but nothing I hadn't seen before. The violence was bordering on gratuitous (although I have to admit that whoever-it-was getting pushed into the helicopter blades was an interesting effect).

Bottom line, this movie practically screamed "MST3K me!" It looked like something that could easily have made its way into Servo and Crow's mockery, albeit a higher-budget and higher-tech version. Maybe I'll get around to seeing the original and finding out if that makes the sequel make more sense.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Computational Irritation, and then some

It really bothers me when people use Firefox without using it to its fullest potential. There are people who use this browser because it's supposed to be a superior browser to Internet Exploder (it is). But they don't customize the search bar, they don't use tabbed browsing, they don't install addons, and they don't keep it up to date. This is comparable to getting the salad bar at Fogo de Chao, or coming to Tech and getting an International Affairs degree. It's of perfectly good quality, and there's nothing wrong with it per se, but it's just not the intended purpose, right?

To me, this seems like people jumping on the Firefox bandwagon, just because it's something they're somehow supposed to do. As in, "I heard Firefox is better than IE" or "It's just a good browser." It is a good browser, but only if you actually use it as intended. Firefox as it comes unmodified is basically the same as IE (but granted, a bit less vulnerable to security exploits).

I guess this just exposes a bigger annoyance of mine: people who espouse an idea without being able to justify or defend why they take that position.


In completely unrelated news, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a really stupid song. It's not even that bad until the weird interlude part. If you've ever heard the song, you know what I mean. Something about a silhouette of a man doing the fandango. It doesn't make sense, the voices sound bizarre and not terribly musical, and it has no relation (topically or stylictically or even emotionally) to the rest of the song.

Hearing it the other day reminded me of something I heard on the Jick and Skully show a few months ago. Skully was complaining about his Queen greatest hits CD and how it didn't have Bohemian Rhapsody on it. Jick answered, "Yeah, but I don't think of that as a song that I'd ever actually sit down and listen to." Having not heard it in a while at that point, I couldn't relate, but now I completely see his point.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Uzer Quote of the Day 1/18

Professor Uzer is my Physics I teacher, for a bit of background. He is widely known for his morbidly hilarious sense of humor (as well as being a good physics teacher). In the first of many, I present the Uzer Quote of the Day (note that Uzer has already explained several times how to get the homework):

Student: "Where do I get the homework?"
Uzer: "Who asked this question and where is my gun?"

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Heard on Letterman

Apparently Saturday Night Live is experiencing something of a resurgence due to blogs. And one of the most popular people among bloggers? Andy Samberg (see "Lazy Sunday"). I've unwittingly contributed to a trendy blog fad. Hooray for me!

Benedict and Blogsurfing

I have to admit that I said some things that ranged from skepticism to criticism of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger during and just after his election to the papacy. I thought he'd be way too conservative, even to the point of making the Catholic church look not so good (or, in the eyes of some, even worse than it already does). While I still don't expect to see many major reforms under the new Pope, the situation is a lot less dire that I would have thought at first.

For one, Pope Benedict has stayed out of the spotlight, much further away from the public attention that I would have guessed. He hasn't been backward, and he hasn't let the medieval mindset that seems to still permeate the church become the public face too blatantly. True, I don't think that priests will be allowed to be married; I don't think the church will stop emphasizing positions on social issues when it could be focusing a lot more on the positive aspects of its spirituality, like the universality of God. But overall, Benedict has not hurt the church or its the public perception of it.

And my respect for Pope Benedict has dramatically increased after beginning to read his book Truth and Tolerance. After getting only 60 pages into it, and already he's covered mysticism, its relationship to monotheistic religions, the differences between Eastern conceptions of man becoming a part of God as opposed to Judeo-Christian viewpoints of man serving God, the efficacy and righteousness of trying to supplant a culture's religion with a different one, and probably a few more topics that flew over my head. The book revolves around the basic views of Christianity's claim to be the only path to salvation. It's absolutely fascinating, a display that Benedict is a brilliant theologian, and the kind of book that proves this man was a good choice for the papacy.

Side note--he's Pope Benedict now, but when he wrote the book, he was Cardinal Ratzinger, so what's the proper way to refer to the author of that book? Are there any rules about referring to someone who had one title at a certain time and gained a new title, but you want to refer to him at the point where he didn't have the new title?

Either way, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it and to seeing how he resolves the ultimate issue. Obviously he's going to come down on the side of Christianity being the true path to salvation--that being his job and all--but I'm interested to see how he gets there and especially his response to counterarguments.


Blogspot has an interesting feature, the "next blog" button at the top-right corner of the blog. Try this out. My top five results for this game are: 1) Political rambling, 2) Fake blogs that redirect you to some other site (usually advertising something), 3) Japanese, 4) Bad poetry, and 5) Blogs from Indonesia or Malaysia (not making that up). Let me know if your random results agree with mine.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

In which Matt concludes his Reviews of recently-watched Movies, and includes another Review, for Good Measure

Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and "Lazy Sunday"

I promise, this is the last review for a while.

The general consensus in the Harry Potter fan world (which is either disturbingly or inspiringly well-developed, depending on how you see it) is that GoF was the best Harry Potter movie so far. Now, I've shirked my duty as a fan of the series a bit by not having seen the movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban. (The first two were mostly faithful to the books, and generally well done. I have no complaints about them.) But GoF did a very good job; most of the scenes in the movie were exactly as I envisioned them in the books (eg, the maze at the end of the tournament), a few were wildly different (eg, the Yule Ball), but in all cases they made sense and were enjoyable to watch.

Now we turn our attention to the Lord of the Rings Book Page-Film Hour Relation Axiom. Basically, if you watch the extended versions continuously, that's about eleven hours of (very good) cinema. Now, accepting the fact that the extended versions of the movies omit very little from the books, and noticing that Lord of the Rings is approximately 1100 pages, you have a nice 100 pages:1 hour relationship. Goblet of Fire was, what, 700 pages? The movie certainly was not 7 hours long, so you get to thinking, what exactly was omitted?

One think I noticed right away was no SPEW subplot, and that was perfectly fine with me. That was an interesting aspect of the book in that it detailed a bit of Hermione's character, but it certaintly wasn't essential to the plot, and not wanting to make the movie a three-hour-seven-minute extravaganza (viz. King Kong), it made sense to omit that particular bit of the story. House-elves are irritating anyway.

And speaking of irritating, nothing is more irritating in the world of Harry Potter than damn Draco Malfoy. From what I gather, Draco has an extensive fanbase, and for what reason I cannot tell. He's one of the shallowest characters in the series, serving only to torment Harry; aside from that (except for in the 6th book, where we begin to see traces of complexity emerging from him) he seems to have no purpose. I've got believability issues with him as well. We've all experienced our share of people that just don't like us, general jerks, and the like; some have been unfortunate enough to have been bullied. Draco is beyond a bully; he's just an asshole. Nobody is that mean, and aside from the fact that Lucius Malfoy is probably among the handful of most evil characters in the series, there is no good explanation for Draco's overwhelming enmity towards Harry. At any rate, there is blessedly little of Draco in GoF, which is certainly a welcome omission.

One omission that I do take issue with, however, is that there is too little Snape in the movie. (I've discussed the character of Snape ad nauseum with my friend Samantha, and most of this narrative is based on those discussions. Let the inspiration credit be given where it's due. She will be exceedingly happy to learn that I have grown to appreciate the character.) Snape is by far the most interesting character in the series for two reasons. First, he treats Harry like Harry should be treated: as a student at Hogwarts, rather than as some Messianic savior come to ransom captive Hogwarts. He's the only character in the series, with the possible exception of McGonagall, that treats Harry as such. Yes, Harry is a special person, but that doesn't exempt him from the rules.

Secondly, and more importantly, Snape is the only character in the series who is morally ambiguous. (In D&D terms, he's the only character whose alignment we do not know.) The entirety of the rest of the HP universe falls squarely into one of three categories: people who are clearly on one side or the other (Clearly good: Dumbledore, the Order of the Phoenix; clearly evil: Voldemort, Lucius Malfoy), people who we think are on one side or the other but that turns out to be wrong (Sirius Black), and people who honestly don't care about one or the other side and are only in it for themselves (most of the Ministry of Magic). There's no uncertainty with any of those characters, but Snape is different. Even at this late stage in the series, we still do not know Snape's alliegance, if in fact he has one. It would be a master stroke on Rowling's part to make him simply out for himself, in effect playing Voldemort against Dumbledore with no stake at all in the good vs. evil battle except for personal survival. I don't think this is going to happen, but at this point there's no preponderance of any evidence pointing to Snape being either good or evil. And that, more than anything, makes him an interesting character.

But aside from a lessened focus on Snape, the movie was a very good one. The fact that I can only think of a handful of omissions from the book tells me that the movie preserved most of the important parts. And the movie was not only accurate, but entertaining as well. Definitely recommended if you're a fan of the book series.

Now, Saturday Night Live seems to be unduly cyclical. It has its stretches of amazing funniness, stretches of painful dullness, and everything in between. After the brilliance of most of the 1990s (see Celebrity Jeopardy, Norm McDonald on Weekend Update, and pretty much every recurring sketch from 1992-1994), the past few years have been decidedly uninspiring. So when my dad and I were watching the other week and came across "Lazy Sunday," we were stunned. If you haven't watched it, do so as soon as possible. Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch.php?v=zLElfJ9YCh0

A bit of useful background information: The Chronic is the name of an early 90s CD by Doctor Dre. Because it featured a marijuana leaf on the cover, "chronic" became slang for marijuana too.

I hope you enjoy this comedic masterpiece as much as I did.

In which Matt continues his Reviews of recently-viewed Movies

Review: Munich and Fun with Dick and Jane

Stephen Spielburg's latest film, Munich, has been called (among other things) his "boldest feat yet." This movie is heavy, dark, graphic, and intense. It's not a movie that you sit down, pop a bag of popcorn, and think "Oh, I know! I'll watch Munich today!" But it is one that you absolutely should sit down and watch at some point.

First off, Munich is not a movie that everyone is going to like. (Presenting my first foray into politics,) liberals are not going to like it because it depicts a group of men who are not afraid to stand up and fight for a cause they believe in. Conservatives are not going to like it because these men are not presented as gung-ho gunslingers, but as actually having remorse for doing their deeds.

Liberals won't care for the movie because nothing is politically-corrected. The antagonists are terrorists, and not just any terrorists, but Middle Eastern Muslim terrorists. And conservatives won't care for it because the terrorists are portrayed as people with ambitions and concerns (not the the movie endorses those ambitions), not as mindless automatons ripe for the killing.

And people expecting your run-of-the-mill action-suspense-thriller are going to be sorely disappointed indeed. Munich is a movie that makes you wonder, consider possibilities and motivations, look at a problem from all sides and reason through the consequences. It makes you think. It's a fitting memorial to one of the most tragic events of the late 20th century. And it is absolutely worth seeing, provided you're up for it.

Fun with Dick and Jane, topically and relationally, is close to the diametric opposite of Munich. It's amusing instead of grim, light-hearted as opposed to weighty, and mocking rather than reflective. Your motivation for going to see these two movies would be in all ways dissimilar. And yet, I can recommend Dick and Jane almost as highly as I can Munich.

I am not a fan, at all, of Jim Carrey's older works. Ace Ventura, The Mask, whatever else he starred in that I don't recall--all of those roles struck me as being absolutely ridiculous. They sacrificed any kind of acting legitimacy for goofiness. A lot of people who agreed with me in the estimation, in turn, loved him in The Truman Show. That was a good movie, and Carrey's acting was certainly less stupid, but I think he was only marginally effective in that serious role. Dick and Jane's Dick, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of role Carrey should have been playing all along: it's comical but doesn't opt for the sheer idiocy of his early movies; it allows him to have fun with the role but forces him to remember that there's actually a story going on behind it.

A few of the people I went to see this movie with started to comment on want versus need, on excess versus necessity. Normally I'd be all about this sort of discussion, but that's not at all the point of Dick and Jane. One review I read mentioned something about the movie hardly being biting satire and social commentary. Again, if that's what you're after, read The Onion or watch The Daily Show. (To its credit, this review also noticed that that wasn't the point of the movie either.) Whichever Baldwin played Carrey's character's boss did an excellent mockery of the late 1990's high-powered dot-com conceited CEO, and the company Globodyne is a remarkably accurate depiction of the "we don't have a product, but we have two million dollars in stock options" company from the same era.

Where Munich is a deeply powerful and emotional consideration of a prominent global concern, Fun with Dick and Jane is an amusingly pleasant diversion. But if you're seeking one cinematic experience or the other, both of these movies provide an excellent place to start looking.

Monday, January 09, 2006

In which Matt has seen many Movies recently, and begins to give his Opinions of them

Review: King Kong and The Producers

Over Christmas break, I have had the pleasure of seeing lots of movies. I probably went to the theater more times over the break than I had over the rest of the year, to various theaters, with various company, and on various people's dollars. Many of these movies were very good, although for a couple of them, let's just say I'm glad it wasn't my $8.50.

Christmas night, I got a phone call asking if I wanted to go see a movie. General debate ensued, in which I suggested that we see Brokeback Mountain. One thing I found out is that the "let's go see Brokeback Mountain" joke is funnier if everyone else knows what Brokeback Mountain is. After I explained my failed attempt at humor (which would really have been quite humorous under the right conditions), the general consensus on the movie was King Kong. Now, everyone living has heard the hype about King Kong. Peter Jackson plus Jack Black and Naomi Watts plus amazing special effects equals spectacular movie, right?

Not so much.

What it boiled down to for me was that the movie was just not believable. By this, I don't mean realistic, because of course it's not realistic for a movie director to accidentally discover a giant ape living on some Pacific island. It's not realistic for wizards to battle each other with magic and a magical ring to turn you invisible, either, but once you accept the fantasy premise, Lord of the Rings is at least believable. King Kong had so many little points of contention that the whole thing became jumbled in them. A man who has never fired a gun before blasts a dozen giant mosquitoes off someone else without hitting him even once? Kong easily makes it across a huge wall designed specifically to contain him? A single canister of chloroform knocks out the giant ape for long enough to get him across the Atlantic Ocean? The giant ape is then loaded onto a boat about the size of said ape and the boat is still seaworthy? Nobody has a problem with Denham installing this giant ape in a Times Square theater?

Additionally, the emotional factor tied to the movie's denouement left a lot to be desired. It's my understanding that I was supposed to feel some sort of sadness when King Kong fell off the Empire State Building. By this point, I believe I was thinking along the lines of "about damn time." If you're the National Guard, and a giant ape is rampaging through your city, destroying cars and buildings, what are you supposed to do? Ignore the darn thing? Hardly. Ann Darrow, I'm really sorry that you were in love with it, but this is a case where utilitarian principles clearly apply: save one woman's "love" (the degree to which one can actually be in love with a semi-sentient creature is of course open to debate) or save the lives and property of thousands of people? The last line of the movie ("It was beauty killed the beast"), aside from being grammatically irritating, was probably the cheesiest way to end a movie that I have ever seen, "The End" screens included. No, it was machine gun fire from biplanes killed the beast. But even if you're not being a literalist about it, that line so clearly does not fit with Denham's character that I about burst into laughter when I heard its underwhelming lack of sincerity.

And maybe I'm just becoming jaded, but the special effects were nothing to write home about. Okay, a giant monkey jumping across chasms. Rampaging dinosaurs? I seem to have seen those before... oh yeah, it was called Jurassic Park. Really, special effects are fine and good, even better if they're nothing we've seen before, but they mean nothing when there's nothing interesting to back them up. And in King Kong, the interesting bits just aren't there.

One review for King Kong mentioned something about "everything you ever wanted from the movies." Maybe so, if everything you wanted to see was some average special effects and a bizarrely unbelievable love story. The Producers, on the other hand, did have everything you ever wanted from the movies, provided you don't want maudlin tear-jerking and plot-jumbling impossibilities.

A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to see The Producers on Broadway. This was after its original cast had moved on, so unfortunately I never got to see Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick on stage. That's not to say that Brad Oscar and Roger Bart weren't brilliant; the production was fantastic. And to my pleasant surprise, the movie version preserved most of the play and transferred it faithfully to the screen.

If you're not familiar with the story, it's a satiric masterpiece involving a couple of Broadway producers who realize they could make more money with a flop than a hit. Without too much plot summary, amsuing antics ensue, and eventually the Producers put on "Springtime for Hitler." You really can't go wrong with Nazi jokes, but Nazi jokes and gay jokes in the same movie? Now maybe you're thinking that this sounds awfully low-brow. People talk a lot about "low-brow" versus "high-brow" comedy. I'm not sure about the brow height of The Producers, but it's funny. The songs are imaginative and creative, the characters are just over-the-top enough to make them hilarious and not annoying, and the story really doesn't drag significantly anywhere.

Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, of course, form the comedic core of the movie. But credit deserves to go to the supporting cast, too. Apparently, the original plan was for Nicole Kidman to play Ulla, and after seeing Uma Thurman's performance in that role (and not being a huge fan of Nicole Kidman anyway), I'm glad the switch was made. Uma Thurman is a talented actress (who can apparently sing, too), and exactly who I envisioned in that role. Even better was Will Ferrell as Franz, the Nazi who wrote "Springtime for Hitler." Ferrell has shown an affinity for completely absurd roles, and as Franz is the ultimate absurd role, this was an excellent casting choice.

Of course, watch for Roger Bart as Carmen Ghia and Gary Beach as Roger De Bris. I won't spoil their unique relationship, in case you're unfamiliar with it. The payoff is too good.

Despite its many flaws, King Kong was entertaining, but if you're going to see only one of these two movies, The Producers is the better choice by far. Stay tuned for reviews of Munich, Fun With Dick and Jane, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

On An Unrelated Note...

...it is much appreciated if, when posting a comment, you leave a name or other means of identification. Comments are overwhelmingly encouraged, and I'd like to know who is doing the said commenting. Many thanks.

SATA; Or, an Acronym for How Computing Should Be

Review: SATA hardware

One of the most important and valuable innovations to hit the computing market in the past few years is the SATA interface. That stands for "Serial ATA," yes, that's serial as opposed to parallel, and no, I have no clue what "ATA" means. SATA is a way for the motherboard to interact with your disk drives. That probably doesn't sound terribly exciting or significant. In fact, even if you know a decent bit about computers, you may have no clue what SATA means or why it's such a great idea. I didn't until a few weeks ago when I bought a new hard drive and tried to install it.

The great thing about SATA is the fact that a SATA device has exactly two cables at all times: a power cable, which goes into the power supply, and a data cable, which goes into the motherboard. If you're thinking "Well, isn't that the way drives should work?" then the answer is yes, that's exactly how they should work. That's nominally how non-SATA drives work too, but the amazing part about SATA drives is that they do not have jumpers. If you've got any familiarity with old hard drives, there's a good chance you're preparing a celebratory offering to your god(s) right now. If not, allow me to delve into the horrific nightmare-scape that is IDE.

See, the old standard for hard drive interfacing is (sometimes) called PATA, but much more commonly called IDE. I don't know what IDE means either. Confused yet? It gets worse. SATA devices are built on the basis that one drive goes into one port. You've got SATA 0, SATA 1, etc. and that's it. (If the numbering convention doesn't make any sense, good, I don't understand either why computers insist on counting from 0 instead of 1.) IDE devices allow you to daisy-chain; that is, a single IDE cable has two slots that plug into hard drives and one that goes into the motherboard. So how does a single IDE controller handle two IDE devices? With a ghastly construction called master/slave configuration.

Each IDE controller can only support one master and one slave. So for every pair of drives connected by the same IDE cable, you have to put one drive on "master" and one on "slave" to get either of them to work. This is much easier said than done, however, as to be able to change from master to slave, one has to take a small (we're talking 1/8 of an inch) piece of circuitry off one set of pins from the back of the hard drive and put it onto another set of pins on the back of a drive. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that this was probably not the best way to do things, so new drives began to support the CSEL (Cable Select) paradigm. If you put both drives' jumpers onto CSEL, the drives will function, and the computer assigns master/slave automatically.

This still means jumpers, though.

So for anyone who has ever dealt with new drive installation and configuration, SATA represents a breakthrough in technological convenience. This breakthrough will never be noticed by the average computer user, and it may not even be apparent to a more advanced user. But if you ever get to the point where you need to use it, I guarantee you will appreciate SATA.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

What's in a Name?

At this point, I would do well to describe the rather curious-sounding moniker "Isoceleria." Yes, that's as in "isoceles triangle," and no, that's nowhere as geeky as it sounds. Rather, this is at once a satire on the Freemasons and tribute to a guy I played in an orchestra with once who had a head shaped like an isoceles triangle. Now, upon hearing this, some people did not believe me. They simply did not think that a person could have a head that was triangle-shaped. A few did believe, though, and thus was born Isoceleria.

The Isocelerian Society, or Isoceleria for short, was made up of three factions: the Lodge (the political wing), the Cuneorum (the military), and the Elucidated Brethren (the mystical wing, and a dozen cool points if you can tell me where that reference is from). We had cool titles, like "Super-Excellent 181st-Degree Master of the Isocelerian Lodge" and "Most Highly Exalted Knight Protector of the Cuneorum" and "Grand Spymaster of the Elucidated Inscribed Circle" and "Transcendent Architect of the Divine Pyramids." In fact, the first three belonged to my friend Andrew, me, and another friend Nicole, and we formed the Anointed Tribunal of Witnesses to the Sacred Figurehead, those who had seen (witnessed) Him With The Triangular Head. The remaining members of the Society were those who had not witnessed but still believed.

Come to think of it, we even had a prophet. Andrew and I randomly IMed a guy who, on a single airplane flight that very day, had seen a man with a triangular head and had a dream where he was asked to join a secret society.

The Isoceleria of old was a place where believers could come to contemplate the Three Mystic Rituals. Let the new Isoceleria be a place where thinkers can come to contemplate their opinions.

Hi, my name is Matt...

...and I've decided to start a blog."

"Hi, Matt."

...wait, this isn't "I've decided to start a blog" anonymous? Ah well. I'm still Matt, and I've still decided to start a blog. Truth is, I've been threatening to do that for several months. Inspiration credits go to: (first and foremost) a couple of friends from Mock Trial, Dennis and Alex, who were toying around with the idea of Alex starting a blog when we were somewhere between Georgia Tech and Memphis. To my knowledge, Alex has not started a blog. If she does, read hers instead of this one because Alex is cooler than I am anyway. Better yet, read hers in addition to mine, because apparently she's going to have things like fashion commentary, something I fear my blog will sorely lack.

Also, inspiration credit goes to Andrew, with whom I made a short-lived fake blog a couple of years ago, also named after the Isocelerian Society (Hail the Triangle). To every holier-than-thou activist (you know, the ones that actually use words like "blogosphere" and take themselves seriously). To Orson Scott Card, who runs a "review of everything" that is usually very entertaining and insightful (even though he liked King Kong). And lastly, to every emo high school kid who ever kept a Livejournal or similar, loaded with cryptic posts about their feelings of love or suchlike nonsense.

This isn't to say I "don't believe in love." Not believing in an emotion does not make much sense. I do, however, object to 15-year-olds who issue proclamations of love.

Introduce myself? Not a bad idea, though most of the people reading this probably know me pretty well anyway. Oh, tangent: this blog is not for me to post things going on in my life. If something particularly amusing or thought-provoking comes up, sure, it'll be there. The point here is more for me to post my thoughts and ideas and opinions and reviews of all manner of things.

Do not ever allow me to post song lyrics here that supposedly relate to my feelings.

Anyway, my name's Matt Pavlovich. I go to Georgia Tech, and am about to start my second semester. Thanks to that blessing from Jesus known as AP credit, I'm technically a sophomore. (Not having to take General Chem or Calc 1 = amazing.) Tech is not really that hard, as of yet. I'm sure when I get to classes like "Thermodynamics II" and "Unit process principles" I'll change my story. Now at this point, you might be thinking, "Wait a second! This is a blog, and he hasn't mentioned politics yet!" True. If you're curious about my political views, I have a few of those, thanks for asking. They might appear at some point, but again that's not the point.

I'll probably say more stuff about myself as it becomes relevant.

Something kind of cool just happened to me. When I typed "foremost" a little while ago, I accidentally typed "forment." Now, I know what "format" and "ferment" and even "foment" mean, but "forment" really seems like it should be a word, and it probably doesn't mean "promote the makeup and layout of an object by an organic chemical change." As it turns out, "forment" is not a word. But "formant" is. It has to do with the resonance forming the characteristic phonetic quality of a speech sound, usually a vowel. So I learned a new word by a typo.