Leap year. Or leap day, if you like. This is supposedly the one day when women can propose to men. Watch out guys. Note that this is *not* Sadie Hawkins day (which is November 15th). Leap year has been around since 45-BC.
Academy Awards air tonight (76th annual, at 5:30 here on the West coast). The Oscars are a big deal here in SoCal, where we live in the shadow of the Hollywood sign. Hosted by Billy Crystal. And the nominees are...
I'm not even going to venture a guess at predicting the winners this year, cuz they don't always select the best performances. I think the selection process is too political, and the Academy has been criticized for such. It takes into account what happened last year, and what other Awards one might be nominated for this year.
Sometimes I get downright disgusted at their choices, which is one of the reasons why people have been tuning OUT in record numbers. (This wouldn't happen if they'd let me pick the winners.)
For example, there's no way Chicago was the best picture last year. And Jack Nicholson doesn't act anymore. He just plays roles as *himself*. He makes for great entertainment, but what he does isn't really *acting*. Those roles don't challenge him.
Movies are so subjective, anyway. The same flick I love, you might hate .. and vice versa. But the Oscars are still great fun to watch. And I get to vent my outrage when they make the wrong selections.
Wiki (pronounced weekee) is a word every good geek should know. It refers to a collaborative style of web site, such as Wikipedia, where anyone, such as you or me, can edit content using an ordinary web browser. The word can also refer to the software used to create such web sites.
The phrase "wiki wiki" means "fast" in Hawaiian. And that's how web sites evolve that use wiki software: fast. When you open up the editing of content to the whole world, sites evolve quickly.
You can write anything you want, but others are free to move, edit or even delete it. And you can delete anything you want, but others may restore it just as quickly. The end result is surprisingly good.
The first wiki was created by Ward Cunnigham in March 1995 for the Portland Pattern Repository (which publishes Pattern Languages). Wikipedia has become one of my favorite Internet destinations when I have a question, because it provides quick, accurate & concise information on a wide variety of topics. For these reasons, you'll find that I link to it frequently. It's like Bartleby's without the ads.
Expect to see more wiki-style sites appear in the future. You can learn more about wiki sites & their software here.
Wendy called last night to say she ran into someone in the halls of the Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts (at USC), where she's helping the BIG Woo (Eric) work on his BIG student film production. Anyway, she was approached by someone asking, "Are you the one with the Film school chronicles posted on the web?"
Long story short, he (I forget his name) had printed out all the updates and assembled them in a binder, replete with titles and organized into semesters. He had moved down to Los Angeles from Northern California with the hope of getting accepted into Film school at USC (no easy chore).
He asked Wendy to autograph his binder and said his mother would be excited to hear that they had actually met. She said the binder and its pages were worn from being read & re-read. They sat together and read a few of the updates. Wendy said, "It was like a mind-warp that instantly took me back to those days."
He said he had scoured the Net, searching for information about USC Film school that didn't come from the university itself, and that my updates were the only source he was able to find. Maybe this is why they remain one of the sites most requested features. If you search Google for the query-string: usc film school, they show up near the top.
Naturally, the university is going to tell you what they want you to hear/know. My updates represent an insider's perspective, more objective than what the university would offer. I told the bad along with the good. [Actually, I told more bad, cuz that's what was most interesting.] Film school is fraught with many trials and much tribulation.
She said the binder was F-A-T fat, and that it surprised her to see how many pages it contained. I have personally counted a total of 85 updates. The master index page for 5 semester's worth of updates is posted here. They began as emails to family & friends, and only later were they posted on the web.
Each weekly update contains roughly 2 to 3 pages of text, which would equal roughly 200 full length pages (8½ X 11). Each full-length page would correspond to 2 book-pages. So, if those chronicles were published in a book, they would represent a manuscript of some 400+ pages.
She said she gets mail all the time from people asking for advice on how to get into the program, but that this was the first time she ever saw the updates actually printed out. She was able to get him a position helping Eric on his production. Valuable experience for sure. She said Eric's production is the biggest student film she's ever seen (with a budget of US$80-K).
(By the way, this is blog-entry #100.)
Been neglecting the site, spending all my free time reading The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest. Whereas Krakauer's account is more polished & entertaining, The Climb is more gritty & enlightening, tho I would argue with those who claim it's not written as well.
I recently purchased a new pair of US$100 hiking boots, which I wear while reading this book .. for that "life-like" effect. I even kill myself on the stairmaster at the local gym to try to simulate the leg fatigue and body aches associated with mountain climbing.
I'm currently ~halfway thru the story. The group just reached the summit and are heading back down. But that's when most tragedies strike. The problem is that they're well behind schedule and darkness is only a few hours away. Their oxygen is running dangerously low, and they're unaware that a nasty storm is brewing. Worst of all (according to the superstitious locals) is that a bad omen has appeared in the sky: a day-star. Here's an excerpt from the page I'm on:
[excerpt] Lene Gammelgaard, however, saw something that disturbed her. "Before I decided to go up over the Hilary Step, I noticed a whiteout coming from the valleys, and I saw the wind pick up over the summit." Gammelgaard had witnessed the formative stages of a storm system that within a few hours would catch her and her climbing partners vulnerable and exposed, at the most dangerous part of an Everest assault: the descent. [/excerpt]
What's so cool is that it's stormy here in SoCal. Rains have arrived and the weather is wonderfully miserable. The wind is howling. Makes reading seem more realistic. Well, I just wanted to check in & say 'hey'.
Everyone here is talking about Mel Gibson's new movie: The Passion of the Christ, which opened yesterday. Saw a snippet of a talk-show discussing it and panel members actually seemed *angry* at Mel, suggesting a boycott. This struck me as odd because it's not like people don't already know the story. What's more unusual is that none of the panel members were film critics. Guess I'll have to go see what all the ruckus is about.
A friend got a new laptop: the Dell 600m. Nice balance between the power of a desktop replacement & the lightweight portability of a road warrior. I have since retired from installing & configuring computers for friends, but this impressive piece of wireless (Centrino) technology was too sweet to pass up.
Spent the last day & a half configuring it. Re-partitioned the 40-gig hard drive into: 16+12+12. The last partition (FAT32) is dedicated solely for Ghost images. Installed Windows XP Pro & all the programs to the first partition. The middle partition is dedicated for downloads, drivers, audio, video, graphics and non-program-related stuff.
Seems like I'm coming out of a digital fog now. Only had one problem, where Windows wouldn't see/recognize a newly inserted CD. Racked my brain on that one. Finally found a fix here (after finding a clue here), which led me to edit a registry value (change from 0 to 1) for the Autorun key:
Determines whether the system sends a Media Change Notification (MCN) message to the Windows interface when it detects that a CD-ROM is inserted in the drive. The MCN message triggers media-related features, such as Autoplay.
I hate giving someone their computer and saying, "Here it is. It's all set up .. except for this one problem that I can't seem to fix." Soon as I finished installing the wireless network adapter, the laptop detected a stray signal, and asked me if I wanted to log-on to the mystery network. So I guess one of the neighbors has a wireless network installed.
Sex and the City is *not* about sex. Rather it's about the idea that it's okay to be a single, professional woman, and the (comic) trials involved in trying to find love. Maybe not here in SoCal or NYC, but in many parts of the country, single women, who don't breed, are viewed as a waste of good oxygen and other environmental resources. This validation is why Sex and the City is such a hit with single, professional women.
Been off the bean for a few days, so motivation is scarce. And I keep killing keyboards. Hard to believe I used the same KB for nearly 10 years and I've killed 3 in the last month. I keep spilling things .. last night a beer (non-alc, no less, while watching the penultimate episode of Sex and the City). Seems like the littlest spill renders them unusable.
A couple of weeks ago I ordered a new keyboard. Today I checked the UPS tracking to find where the heck it is, and it says *delivered*. Upon further inspection, I noticed that it was delivered to the wrong address, in the wrong town (Laguna Hills, while I live in Laguna Beach).
So I call the manufacturer and say, "Hey! What gives?" First they say I must have filled in the order form incorrectly, because shipping is done automatically, without human intervention. But I'm looking right at the invoice (luckily I had a copy), so I know they're full of it.
When their blame-the-customer-first strategy didn't work, they said, "Oops, sorry. Our bad. You have two options (my interpretation): 1. Drive around Southern California, going door-to-door, trying to find your lost keyboard that we mis-shipped. Or 2. We'll tell UPS to retrieve the KB and send it back to us. Then, when we get around to it (maybe a week later), we'll re-ship it to you, and try to get it right this time.
Notice nowhere in those options was the statement: "Since we made a dumb-@ss mistake, and you've been waiting for two weeks already, we'll Fed-Ex you one overnight," which is what I expected to hear. So I got frustrated and cancelled my order. But now I have a keyboard with sticky keys, and some that don't work at all.
It's been one of those days. And how much you want to wager that they 'forget' to credit my credit card? I can hear them now, "Must've slipped my mind."
Saw Touching the Void last night, which finally opened in theaters here in SoCal over the weekend. As is the case with many of these mountaineering sagas, one person gets left for dead .. and in this case, that happened in 1985, in the remote Peruvian Andes, on a never-before-climbed mountain, where others have tried but always failed.
What makes this story so compelling is that this guy (Brit Joe Simpson) gets left for dead inside a deep crevasse, with a broken leg, which means he's unable to climb out under his own power. As he so eloquently puts it: "You don't die of a broken leg." .. which leaves him two (equally unpleasant) options: 1. lay there and die, or 2. descend *deeper* into the crevasse, and hope to find a way out below. It's the only hope he has.
The fact that he's sitting there, on camera, telling you his side of the story, means that the viewer knows he obviously found a way out. But this does not ruin the story. Because the real story is about what happens to a man when he comes to the end of himself. Because *he* didn't know he'd find a way out, and even if he did, that didn't mean he'd survive. He still had a long way to go .. with that broken leg.
The first thing to catch my attention was that these two guys each tell their own side sitting *separately*. You never see them physically together. Which makes you think there's animosity between them - as might be expected, since one cut the rope (lifeline) holding the other. Yet they claim no ill will exists toward the other.
The movie's critical moment is when Joe makes the decision to lower himself deeper into the crevasse - after laying there for an unsettling night. He also decides NOT to tie a knot in the end of the rope, to preclude him from hanging there until he dies, if he finds no way out below. He will simply drop to his death, hopefully ending it quickly.
While discussing the critical moment, Joe mentions being raised Catholic, but has since become an atheist. I could be wrong, but (being the skeptic I am) I don't think he was really atheist. Rather I felt this was a dramatic ploy to emphasize the sense of aloneness lying there in the crevasse. And, indeed, it works well. From a purely statistical perspective however, it struck me as as an unlikely anomaly. (I wonder if that part is mentioned in the book.) He also tries to think of someone he loves, but no one comes to mind.
I appreciated that this movie did not employ hyperbole. It didn't really need to, and that would've ruined it. We saw it at the University-Town theaters on/near the UC campus in Irvine. This is the only theater in the area screening the film. The theater was full except for the first few rows up front. I enjoyed it. Critical reviews posted here. And, yes, I wore my hiking boots to the movie.
I've been having trouble, lately, with site statistics disappearing. It you read the entry for the first of this month, you'll see that RADIFIED set a new site record last month with over 1.7 million hits. Someone, it appears, has been sabotaging these statistics.
If true, I would be greatly honored .. that someone (anyone) would care enough about the site to consider it worth sabotaging. More likely though, it's probably just a misunderstanding. But there are not many people who have access to these stats, or the utility program that generates them. The number is limited.
Trouble first occurred on Saturday, 24jan, and again, most recently, on Wednesday, 11feb. Tech support at my web hosting provider called this morning to inform me of the problem and say they're trying to determine who's responsible. Mystery & intrigue. (Maybe I shouldn't be publishing this info?)
Someone (they inform me) has been *archiving* (like creating a *.zip file) the master file generated by the utilty that produces these usage statistics. This is something I can't even do myself, and I have full administrative priviledges. When the utility can't find the original file, it generates a new one, which sends the site's usage stats back to zero for the month, starting the accumulation all over again (stats normally accrued daily).
I'm pretty excited by this news. It could be a good omen. When people try to sabotage you in the workplace, it's usually because you're seen you as a political threat, and typically signifies that you've "arrived". [Indifference is a web site's cruelest insult.] These problems may be a sign that RADIFIED has finally arrived.
But I doubt it. Someone probably just hit the wrong site by mistake, or there is a perfectly logical explanation. Yet I can still hope .. that somebody out there cares enough about the site to wish it harm. Seems unlikely, tho.
Saw The Dreamers last night: a film by Bernardo Bertolucci, an Italian director who is no stranger to controversy. [He directed The Last Tango in Paris, starring Marlon Brando. I also enjoyed his 1998 film: Besieged.]
The Dreamers is rated NC-17 (no one under 17 allowed in), and indeed, they checked everyone's ID at the ticket counter. We caught it at the Sunflower in Costa Mesa. Yesterday was opening night, with the theater comfortably full.
Artistic film, set in Paris, 1968. The theme: Fantasy vs Reality. I think we all create our own, little fantasy worlds. Sometimes that's healthy & sometimes it's not. And that's all I'll say about the film. I think it's a film that's best seen when you know nothing about the storyline (as are most films), so you have no preconceived notions or expectations to color your perception. Reviews posted here.
The movie provided ample food for thought. So afterwards, we stopped by Habana's restaurant (at the Anti-Mall down the street) to share our perspectives & insights over some homemade sangria & Cuban cuisine. They must have 500 candles lit at that place. I heard that electricity in Cuba is not very reliable. Had to wait almost 30 minutes to get a table at 10-PM.
I'm enjoying this book. It offers an alternate perspective to the same story told by Jon Krakauer in his account of the mountaineering tragedy that killed 8 people in 1996 en route to the world's highest peak (Everest). I read his book: Into Thin Air back in January 2003.
The Climb is told by Russian high-altitude super-stud Anatoli Nikoliavich Boukreev (subsequently killed in an avalanche on Annapurna). His account, for me, is similar to viewing the same mountain from a different side/perspective. Even more interesting is that their accounts do not agree. Boukreev is the more accomplished & experienced climber, with a fat high-altitude resume.
The Russians don't believe in coddling marginal climbers. Americans, he feels, are willing to *carry* their clients to the top, as long as they can pay the hefty US$65,000 fee. Russians don't play that game. They feel prospective climbers need to be screened carefully, so that only truly qualified climbers are accepted.
I don't know why I'm so attracted to these high-altitude climbing books. I mean, there's a part of me that feels climbing a sheer face is one the he dumbest things a person could do. Can't seem to stop reading about it.
The boyz at Intel have released their next-generation CPU for desktop computers, code-named Prescott. If you want to read all the geek-speek, a Google search pre-configured for the terms Intel Prescott is posted here. But most folks simply want to to know the answer to two questions:
Do I want one? and How much will they cost? The answer to the first is: not yet. Right now, Prescotts run a little slower than a similarly clocked Northwood (due to a longer, 31-stage pipeline). Prescotts will sell for the same price as their Northwood cousins at identical speed-points.
You will recognize PrEscotts by the addition of the letter 'E' to the CPU name, such as P4-3.2E. I looked at Newegg and you can find them there already, but only at the lowest 2.8-GHz speed. The rest of the speeds are scheduled to ship next quarter. Note that this is NOT the same as the 'EE' outrageously expensive Extreme Edition CPU, based on the Northwood. You might also try Atacom.
This is Intel's first major CPU re-design since the release of the Northwood CPU some two years ago on January 7th, 2002. Note that the current Northwood P4 max'es out at 3.4-GHz. The Prescott will initially release at the following (GHz) speed-points: 2.8, 3.0, 3.2, & 3.4.
Note that these new Prescotts are rated no higher than current Northwood CPUs. In the third quarter we will see speeds of 3.8 & 4.0-GHz. This would be the time to get a Prescott, since they need the higher clock-rates to make the longer pipeline worthwhile. All Prescotts run at 800-MHz FSB (only).
The casual observer will notice no major changes, since the current Northwood and new Prescott will both wear the same Pentium 4 name tag. The most significant change is the reduced manufacturing process down to 90-nm (nano-meter, or 0.09-micron) from the current 130-nm (0.13-micron) used by today's Northwood.
The smaller manufacturing process results in a corresponding die-size reduction (smaller chip). Precott is 112-mm², while the Northwood is 131-mm². Usually, smaller chips produce less heat, but the Prescott seems to buck this trend, which is bad news. Thermal power on the 3.4-GHz Prescott actually *increases* to 103-watts (from 89-wats for the Northwood of the same speed). That is one hot chip! Think of the heat produced by a 100-watt lightbulb, which can burn your hand.
The second-biggest change will be a doubling of the L2 cache to 1-MB (from Northwood's 512-KB). The L1 cache is also doubled to 16-KB, from Northwood's 8-KB. The larger L1 cache has a higher access latency (bad). It's like a bigger, slower truck. Will the bigger, slower truck allow you to move your household effects more quickly? The answer is: it depends (on what you're moving). It will likely be faster if it allows you to make one trip instead of two.
Prescott comes with SSE3 (containing 13 new instructions), altho I don't know of any programs that use these new instructions yet.
It also comes with a longer, 31-stage pipeline (nick-named the "Baskin Robbins" pipeline) The pipeline is analogous to the length of a car assembly line. By contrast, the Northwood has a 20-stage pipeline. A longer assembly line would take longer to produce each car, unless you can speed it up .. which is what Intel plans to do with Prescott (by increasing the clockrate, eventually to 5-GHz).
Had enough information overload already? Two final key statistics:
The new Prescott comes with a whopping 125-million transitors (which is good, the Northwood has 'only' 55-million) and the Prescott uses a slightly lower default voltage: 1.385-volts (Northwood = 1.5-volts). My advice: buy a Northwood until Prescotts exceed Northwood speeds. Let others (called "early adopters") work out the kinks for you. When actual users report the coast is clear, it will be time to jump in with both feet.
If you currently have a motherboard with either the Intel 865 or 875 chipset, you should be able to run a Prescott with a simple BIOS flash-update, since they use the same 478-pin configuration as current Northwood P4s. Changes incorporated in the Prescott should allow Intel to reach the 5-GHz mark by next year. If you're interested in Prescott overclocking, see here and here. Personally, I'm concerned by the fact that Prescotts run hotter than Northwoods. Heat is a CPU's worst enemy and is always bad for stability.
Speaking of yesterday's dysfunctional keyboard, I usually keep a supply of spare parts on hand. For example, somewhere here I have a spare mouse, a few floppy drives, and a power supply or two. I usually have a spare keyboard, too, but I keep spilling things of them.
All these components are fairly inexpensive, and don't change very much over time, unlike CPUs and hard drives, which continually get bigger & faster & cheaper. I've never had to replace a dead CPU (knocks on wood), but just about everything else has needed replacing at one time or another. Sometimes you don't have time to run down to the local CompUSA for some small part.
I also noticed that I don't like USB keyboards & mice (actually, I prefer *trackballs*, which are easier on my tendons), and I don't like wireless input devices, as they seem slow (laggy) ,, even tho most of the KBs & mice on the shelves at CompUSA last night were USB/wireless.
I used to have even more spare parts on hand, but friends sometimes call at odd hours of the night, saying things like, "Dude, my mouse just died. I am so screwed. Do you have an extra I can borrow?" They promise to replace them, but always seem to forget. [You know who you are.]
Spilled coffee on my keyboard today (for the second time). Now only about half the dang keys work, and every time I hit the space bar, the cursor jumps back to the beginning of the line. This would be a good torture for people in hell.
Anyway, I ordered a new keyboard today: the *backlit* Sapphire model by Eluminx. This way I'll be able to work at night without having to keep a light on. When it arrives, I'll let you know if it's as cool as it looks/sounds. Newegg has it here, but they are out-of-stock. The local CompUSA is also out-of-stock on this model.
Updated the Guide to Norton Ghost: the site's single most popular feature. Been meaning to do that for some time. It hasn't been updated since last September. Mostly added reader comments & clarifications. Nothing major. Also updated the accompanying PDF files: both the downloadable (93-KB zip) & printer-friendly (152-KB, not zipped) versions.
I'm researching notebook computers, and the new technologies they offer, such as Intel's Centrino, which debuted last March. This mobile technology claims to use less power, while integrating wireless networking. Official Intel press release is posted here.
Things get confusing when you consider that the highly-coveted Pentium M processor (note the *absence* of the number 4), which sits as the centerpiece of the Centrino technology, max'es out at 1.7-GHz, and contains a 1-MB L2 cache, is NOT THE SAME as the (older, less-coveted) Pentium 4-M chip (note the *presence* of the number '4' there), which max'es out at 2.6-GHz & contains only 512-KB cache .. which is still different from the regular Pentium 4 chip, which is designed for desktop computers (max'es out at 3.2-GHz). Easy to confuse them (thanks to Intel's naming scheme), but they are all very different animals.
I was surprised to learn that the performance of these different chips do NOT compare on a 1:1 basis. For example, the 1.7-Ghz M chip is slightly *faster* than the 2.6-GHz 4-M chip .. or so says benchmarks offered by Intel. Review of the P-M is posted here.
If you are not confused yet, consider that Intel will release its next-generation 'M' chip, called Dothan, in May. It will come with *twice* the L2 cache, and be based on a smaller manufacturing process (90-namometer). Current chips use a 130-nm manufacturing process. Smaller is better. More Dothan info posted here.
I was also surprised to learn that the Centrino technology contains an out-dated wireless networking standard: 802.11b, which is limited to 11-Mbps. So, if you get a Centrino-based laptop, you would want to get an add-on card that supports the next-generation (backwards-compatible) 802.11g protocol, which supports speeds up to 54-Mbps (5 times faster). Centrino-based notebooks which support the new 'g' standard are coming, but aren't expected to arrive for a few more months. There is also an "a" protocol, but it is not very popular.
I'm looking at the Inspiron line of notebooks from Dell, and the (gorgeous-yet-overpriced) ThinkPads from IBM. While I'm doing that, you may want to see where the wireless "hotspots" are located in your country, in your state, and even in your city (California). Hotspots allow you to sit down, order up a double-cappuccino, turn-on your notebook, and instantly connect to the Internet (wirelessly) at blazingly fast speeds. Now, how cool is that!
A special thanks to the guys at the Storage Review for helping me with this.
Intel cut prices of their CPUs. Newegg has the Pentium4 3.0C for US$229, which is a pretty good deal. I updated the Black Beast to include this chip. The 2.8-GHz CPU goes for a measly US$189. The flagship 3.2-GHz chip is still pricey at $289. Newegg's impressive reseller-rating is posted here.
If you decide you want one, make sure you select a chip that corresponds to the bus speed your system runs at. CPUs ending with the letter "C" are designed to run on an 800-MHz system bus. The letter "B" indicated 533-MHz, and the letter "A" means the chip is designed to run at 400-MHz. These bus speeds are determined by your particular motherboard. My links above all correspond to chips designed for a system bus running at 800-MHz.
I've always heard that February was the best month to buy electronics. If you like deals that save you money, my buddy Apex & his posse spend hours each day scouring the Net to find the best ones. If you want to learn more about CPUs, check out the RADIFIED guide to the Intel Northwood Pentium4 CPU. You should also know about the Intel Prescott Pentium 4 CPU.