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Category Archives: review

OS X Leopard thoughts

Just wanted to say, I’ve been using OS X Leopard for about a week and overall, I’m really impressed. The installation was a bit of a pain, due to my years of abusing the OS in ways Apple apparently didn’t forsee, but after removing a few toxic-to-Leopard files and directories, I was up and running.

First off — Leopard actually feels noticeably faster on old hardware. This is great news, since my beloved 12″ PowerBook G4 is in its fourth year with me, and I have no plans to replace it. (Seriously, if my PowerBook were to die right now, I’d go on eBay and buy another one rather than a newer laptop.) Now, this is not to say it necessarily is faster on the kernel level (it might be, I don’t know), but when I’m using it, all the UI parts are snappy and responsive. And that, my friends, is a whole lot more important than shaving a couple percent off compile or copy times.

The new Finder is a huge improvement on previous versions, and the coverflow view (where you can shuffle through previews of all your images) is surprisingly useful — I made a smart folder for all my PDFs, and use it to find papers I filed away but don’t remember where. Spotlight is finally usable on my PowerBook and so far has refrained from grinding my compy to a halt for hours at a time. And Spaces is already an integral part of how I work. The real revelation, though, is Time Machine, which is just a massive leap ahead of every other consumer-level backup system I’ve ever seen — so easy, my computer-leery mom can use it, and so powerful, I can’t imagine myself ever using anything else. So kudos to Apple — I was fully prepared for a minor upgrade to OSX with a couple of features I would ignore or disable, and instead I got an upgrade that has already become so essential, I’d have trouble going back to Tiger if I had to.

And yet, at the same time, the new Dock is so bad — and so aggressively, unavoidably, in-your-face bad — I can’t understand how it got through development. Stacks is such a terrible idea I keep checking the web to see if anyone has yet written the inevitable program to disable it and get regular folders back (a la Spotless). I mean, I understand that Leopard is a huge project and different teams might have different levels of competence, but this is like finding a room full of pinheads in a NASA lab.

Anyway, there’s a much better, much longer review over at Ars Technica that I may one day finish reading. But in short, I’m quite pleasantly surprised at how lame Leopard isn’t.

PS: Shut up! I am *too* great with pinhead analogies!

random nuggets of Eric

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been devoting my hours to work at Worio, a Yaletown start-up I’ve been associated with essentially from its inception (though other people have done much more work than me). I enjoy the work, and it’s a nice break from grad school. Not only is the pay better, but pretty much every day I can go home feeling like I’ve accomplished something. The PhD program is not like that.

The only downside is the schedule. I work 10 to 12 hours a day, and that’s not counting the 45-minute commute each way. I go to the gym two or three nights a week, and out for dinner, movies or concerts a couple of other nights. I typically leave the house at 8 AM and get home at 10 or 11 at night. Saturday is usually spent running errands, and Sunday is my day of rest.

And so, other things have to fall by the wayside a bit. I don’t think I’ve looked at YouTube in a month! A month! And I’m lucky is I see more than one movie a week (though my commute means that I’m reading a ton of books, which is pretty cool, though I have an iPod Touch to watch videos on now). This blog is another victim. I just don’t feel like I have the time or energy for full, thought-out posts. Not that what I write is usually more than “Here’s a cool link. BLANK is cool! (Insert joke here.)” Even so, I do have opinions and I know how much you care about them. But maybe for now, I’ll just do a bit of a random thought dumpage. Let’s try it, shall we?

andorra.jpgThe Lyrica order form new Caribou album, Andorra, is terrific — kind of a wistful sixties psychedelic pop version of Caribou that perfectly fits walking though downtown Vancouver in the fall. I’ve been listening to the entire album pretty much daily. My roommate even liked it so much she blogged about it, too. Actually, 2007 has been a great year for Canadian indie music. Besides Caribou, I’ve been really enjoying the 2007 releases of The New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, Pink Mountaintops, Champion and You Say Party! We Say Die!. And I’m sure there’s plenty of others I haven’t heard yet.

As I mentioned before, somebody used my credit card to commit several thousand dollars worth of fraud. It’s taken a few calls to the bank, but the damage seems to have been undone — at least the damage against me. I wonder how common this kind of thing is. Somebody is out a lot of money — there’s no way the bank has made anything like the money the lost off my past half-decade of credit-card use.

kyrgzhatsnip.jpgI’m still hugely looking forward to my post-PhD trip across Asia in a couple years, but I haven’t had anything particularly insightful to say lately. The part of the route from India to Turkey will be interesting. I will either have to go through Pakistan and Iran, or through the Central Asian republics and Russia. I’ve been reading a bit about both. On the one hand, Iran has better transportation and I culture I’m very interested in. On the other hand, Central Asia has thrilling headgear. But I think the final decision will depend on the state of the region when I get there, c. 2010.

Can you believe 2010 is now the near future? Like, I’m making plans for that year? The mind boggles. I feel all the time like I live in a William Gibson novel.

facebook-snip.jpgI’m still on Facebook, though all I ever do is update my status message every couple of days, which I see as kind of a creative exercise. I don’t even read the updates of people on my network very often. However, I still find it kind of fascinating — I think its genius is that it’s the first web page on the internet that is explicitly targeted toward the extroverted majority of human beings. The people who (unlike, say, me) honestly want to know what all their friends got up to last weekend, and who (also unlike me) typically do something with their free time that’s more sociable than watching DVDs or reading comics and books about statistics and economics.

Speaking of books about statistics and economics, I recently read and enjoyed Tyler Cowan’s Discover Your Inner Economist and Nassim Nicholas Taleb even more interesting Fooled by Randomness. Each of these looks at how the authors’ fields (economics and financial mathematics) informs their worldview in subtle and unintuitive ways, complete with amusing anecdotes. While I’d recommend these books in general, I think I personally got a lot out of them because while I’m neither an economist nor a statistician (a shocking revelation, I know), my own research owes a lot to these fields, and I increasingly find myself looking at the world through a haze of utilities and variances. Also, Taleb’s book provides some evidence that it is possible to work on interesting problems in finance, be well paid, and not turn into (or start off as) a boring, status-obsessed asshole.

Wednesday night I saw Tokyo Police Club at The Plaza. The band didn’t even come on until midnight (on a Wednesday night!), and then the sound was pretty awful. Tired and bored from standing around waiting for the show, and disappointed by the shitty mix and always too-hot Plaza venue, we left after about five songs. Enough people were bolting that there was already a fairly long queue for the coat check at that point. Nice try, boys. I don’t know whether it’s the Plaza or TPC to blame, so I blame both.

Explosions in the Sky, live

Eits-Cloud-Snip“This totally fucking destroys!”

According to indie-rock folklore, that’s the four-word review by American Analog Set that got Explosions in the Sky signed to their label. And fucking destroy, it does. Even live. Especially live.

I wrote about these Austin post-rock instrumentalists a few months ago. In their live show, they came out, introduced themselves, and launched into a ninety-minute, unbroken soundscape of ringing guitars and majestic noise. By the end, people in the crowd were pumping their fists in the air, or spazz-dancing, or lying or sitting on the floor letting the music wash over them. The fact that it was in the Croatian Cultural Center, which has all the charm of a Croatian high school gym, only made it better. If they had been selling tee-shirts, I totally would have bought one. (Note to EitS: seriously, dudes, no tees?)

I didn’t have my camera, but this is what it was like, only with less jerky camera work.

  • Link (EitS Live in Austin)

The Terror

Terror SnipHas a ship ever been more appropriately named than the HMS Terror? A mortar-launching bomb vessel converted to icebreaker, she sailed to Antarctica (a massive frozen volcano, Mount Terror, is named for her) before setting off with her sister ship, the HMS Erebus, on the 1845 Franklin expedition to chart the Northwest Passage. Terror and Erebus became frozen into the ice west of Baffin Island, where the crews slowly starved and froze to death over the course of two horrifically cold winters and thawless summers before making a desperate and doomed trek south. Only years later were a few traces of the expedition found, the bodies showing signs of lead poisoning, murder and cannibalism.

My most recent bout of insomnia has allowed me to finally finish off Dan Simmons’ 784-page novel, The Terror, based on the Franklin expedition. Simmons’ Sir John Franklin is fueled by a combination of Victorian hubris and a desperate need to redeem himself following a previous arctic failure, which leads him to take the expedition into dangerously risky territory (the echoes of Iraq are never overdone, but they’re hard to miss). As a series of catastrophes — natural, manmade and supernatural — unfold, the story shifts to Crozier, captain of the Terror and the huddled band of survivors, at which point, the novel kicks in and never lets up. The survivors must deal with scurvy, mutiny, and winters of constant darkness and unrelenting cold. And that’s not even counting the thing out on the ice that’s killing the men one by one.

The novel paints arctic exploration as inept intrusions on a relentlessly hostile and unforgiving world, exacerbated by the arrogance of explorers who mistake their accidental survival for triumph over nature. Only Crozier and his crew’s determination to survive for the sake of survival keeps them going. As things get more and more dire, it becomes clear that this instinct is not necessarily heroic.

I’ve never read any of Dan Simmons’ other work, but I might have to now. The Terror is a grim story, but it never feels nihilistic — Simmons is surprisingly warm and humanistic even while he’s killing his characters, and the details of 19th-century polar exploration are fascinating without ever interfering with the story. It may be 800 pages long, but it’s a damn entertaining 800 pages.

“And They Have a Plan…”

Bsg-SnipSo I’ve started watching the “re-imagined” (and made-in-Vancouver) Battlestar Galactica the past couple of weekends, after having it recommended to me so many times that I was starting to feel like the last geek on the planet to get hooked on it. And I have to say, based on the miniseries/pilot and the first half-dozen episodes on the first season, it is not just good, but shockingly good.

I was kind of expecting a science-fiction series that was good in the way Firefly was — an original universe with interesting characters and strong writing. And sure, it has all those. But the really interesting thing — the thing that really impressed me — isn’t that. It’s that the show lives up to the oft-claimed, seldom-witnessed ability of science fiction to act as social commentary.

Once day, there will be a TV series that deals directly with 9/11 and its aftermath, but by the time it happens, our perceptions will be colored by history, like all those Vietnam War movies made in the 1980s. Battlestar Galactica is about the anxieties of living in the aughts, albeit given a lot of sci-fi twists and shakes. In 10 years it will seem dated and perhaps ridiculous, but right now, when a possibly-commandeered passenger ship seems set on a collision course with the Galactica, or the Cylons talk about God with the earnestness of Christian fundamentalists, or when Apollo holds his gun to a rebel’s head and offers him his choice of democracy or a bullet — it has real power. And it doesn’t hurt that the acting, photography and special effects are all more cinematic than small-screen.

Not to mention, the very second episode opens with the near-complete annihilation of humanity, and ends with the death of most of the survivors. Now, putting something that dark on TV is bold. Making that your very first story arc, instead of the backstory — that takes balls.

Now, that’s not to say it’s perfect — I mean, it’s TV. It’s pretty unsubtle, and halfway through the first season, some episodes have already felt filler-ish. And the weird mixture of c. 2005 technology and politics, and technofantasy space opera makes the world seem jarringly schizoid sometimes.

But still: you can count me among the hooked.