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Archive for September, 2007

Things I should be studying for

September 26, 2007 1 comment

It’s come to my attention that this space has had disappointingly little to say about my current institution of higher learning, where I’m getting learnt good.

This is, I believe, because it’s become normal to me. I try to let little faze me, and by and large I would like to think I’ve been successful in that.

Clocking in at a Big Kids Meal size of 13 hours, this semester is pretty light in terms of classes, as I’ve mentioned before. There’s been an emerging disproportionality between the various classes in terms of workload, which is to be expected, as well as welcomed. For example, CH102, my Chemistry lab, requires very little out of class work. Just a pre-lab once a week, the night before class, and a few follow-up questions after class.

In all, I’d like to think I’m doing pretty well, but the truth is that I am having a bit of trouble. Having teachers obliquely mention assignments a week before their due date and saying nothing else until it comes time to turn them in has tripped me up already. Also, adjusting to college tests tripped me up. I got Ds on the first tests in each of Chemistry 101 (CH101) and Calculus III (MA242) . But taking each grade as constructive criticism, as it were. For Calculus III, I knew the processes in and out, as I should, but I hadn’t memorized each minute formula. When I forgot the formulas for two of the six questions, and these two questions each counted 20 points out of the 100 available, my grade sunk. Lesson learned.

Chemistry is a much more inscrutable problem. Since all I got was a number grade on the test, without so much as markings on my returned scantron to alert me to which questions I missed, I have no idea what I need to study and improve. I’m sure if I asked the Professor, she’d just say to study it all. Helpful, eh?

But probably the most bothersome class of them all is this pesky E101, which is billed as Introduction to the College of Engineering. It’s a 2-hour per week class for which we’re getting 1 credit hour, which consists of sitting in an auditorium and hearing speeches about stuff like internships, co-ops, and the various engineering majors. It feels almost like a sales pitch every time. But the real killer is the homework. For this class, we have to design and construct one of a list of contraptions, such as a concrete canoe (small scale) or a bubble-blowing machine.

And just today, the teacher decided to change the assignment from “get up and give a five-minute presentation” to “create a five-minute video” on a topic in Engineering. This is clearly the first time he’s modified the assignment, and I’m not sure he’s quite thought it all through. For example, when someone asked where we are supposed to get video cameras from, he said that we could just use the cameras on our cell phones to record the video.  Clearly, this man wants quality product.

Outside of class, though, things are going well. I’m not finding a lot of trouble coming up with time for classwork, even with my job at SAS. This is partly due to the fact that I ended up giving up World of Warcraft after the group of players I had been playing with ejected me because of some lingering grudges. I’m not complaining though, because this actually comes at a rather convenient time for me. With a flotilla of new games coming around this season, I’d have been surprised if I remained faithful to WoW anyways.

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Categories: College

Tuesday Open: Podcasts

September 25, 2007 4 comments

Inspired by the noble and brave Frank J. and Charles Johnson, I’ve realized that a key element to generating more blog content for a disproportionately small amount of effort is to get your readers to do it for you. So here’s a post for you to comment on and discuss to your heart’s content.

But I do also have a sort of point to this. I’ve recently been exploring the use of podcasts as entertainment during my cross-campus treks. This has consisted entirely of the Gamers With Jobs Conference Call podcast and Penny Arcade’s Downloadable Content. But this is of course limited by two factors: shortage of content and cumbersomeness of manually downloading and transferring each file. Any recommendations on how to fix either or both are welcome in the comments.

Categories: The Internet

Anything Good On?

September 24, 2007 1 comment

The TV battlefield’s about to change. For starters, the new season of Heroes starts tonight. I am certainly looking forward to that. But that comes at what seems a high price: the end of season 1 of Burn Notice.

I mentioned Burn Notice once before in this space, but that was shortly before the show started. I had been suckered in by the promotional material, and wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it’s been probably my favorite show this whole summer. It takes a simple A-Team-esque format of ex-military helping people in need while trying to clear their name, and makes it even more fun.

Take the season 1 finale that aired this past Thursday. It was a 2-hour finisher that I would compare to a solid action movie like Die Hard with about twice as much wit, and half the exposition and denouement — a luxury afforded because it is part of an ongoing series. You already know the characters and the general setting, so you don’t spend the first fifteen minutes learning how much of a badass the protagonist is.

In my humble opinion, this is a show that deserves much more hype than it’s getting. On the other hand, as long as it stays on the air, I won’t be complaining. Well, I will, but only because the endcap to the finale stated that new episodes will be coming out next summer. Today’s high is 87 degrees Fahrenheit. This summer isn’t over. And they want me to wait until next summer? Just glancing at USA’s homepage, I can find a show that should be nipped in the bud, and it’s funding and time slot given to Burn Notice. I mean, it’s a reality show about someone who looks like he should be on Jackass crashing his bike into a cement truck or the like.

Too bad I’m not a TV exec, I guess.

Also, another show that I mentioned in that post from long ago was The Sarah Connor Chronicles. As it happens, the pilot episode showed up on the torrent networks a while ago. Given that I’m already pre-sold on the entire concept and I’m going to watch the series until Sarah dons a leather jacket and jumps a Terminator shark on water skis, I felt no real qualms about having this little foretaste of the show. So I got my hands on the pilot.

Having said that, I realize I’m hardly an objective reviewer of this sort of show. However, I was eminently impressed. Recasting Sarah was no small task, but Lena Headey brings just the right mix of border-line insanity and paranoia mixed with effusive love for John. This show has great promise.

Also of interest is a point that my father made to me when I was telling him about this some time ago: it’s awfully interesting that a high-quality, well-edited, polished, final-cut-looking episode made it onto the ‘net so far in advance of the premier. He speculated that it may have been the work of the networks. At the time, I was intrigued, but not convinced.

After reading the above linked tvweek.com article, I’m leaning more towards it. The article points out that the shows that have made it online pre-maturely “are among the more anticipated, buzz-heavy titles of the fall (there are many copies of ‘Bionic’* and ‘Connor’ online, for example, but no copies of ABC’s ‘Carpoolers’ or The CW’s ‘Life is Wild’ were found).”

(*This reference to the internet being rife with a leaked pilot of the new Bioic Woman show is complicated by the fact that Amazon is giving the show away for free. Update: Since this went to press, about two thirds of the shows there have been removed, including the Bionic Woman pilot.)

If this is really the work of the networks, their aim is obvious: to get the folks who surf the torrent networks (e.g. me) to have a look at these titles, and spread even more buzz for them (which I’m doing right now). It’s an interesting idea, and certainly seems to be working, if I’m any example.

Categories: The Internet

College Consumerism: A Round-up

September 21, 2007 Leave a comment

Now that I’ve completed three weeks of classes, and a few more days of actually living in a dorm, I’ve definitely learned a lot. Many, but not all, of these things, relate to that elusive fairy-dust college students always are in short supply of: money. Thankfully, not only do I have gainful employment, but I’ve managed to not waste a bunch of cash. And here’s how.

Targus Groove Backpack: This thing is amazing. I got one on sale for $25, just barely below list ($30), and it’s worth every penny. After a few (ahem) years of buying bookbags for school, I thought $25 was a bit on the pricey side, but since you usually get exactly what you pay for with bags, I was okay with it. Plus, a friend of mine has been using the same Targus backpack since I met him during freshman year of high school.

Lo and behold, when I go to the store to pick it up, I find that this honey is nestled in with the other bags designed to hold laptops, which start around $60 and go up to about $200. And this is just what’s on the one aisle at the local Office Depot. I’m not sure why, but the price modifier for being “rated” to carry a laptop seems to be an extra 100%. But apparently Targus cut the crap and just delivered the savings. I imagine they’ll be hearing from me again.

Belking Model F5D6231-4 Wireless Router: I only list this particular item here, because it technically did save me money, inasmuch as I got it for free. This bunger had been floating around my IT Department (read: house) for years. I’m pretty sure it used to be our old router, but we got a new one for reasons that have become clear to me in recent days. Primarily, it sucks.

In the past, I’d dusted this thing off for networking up a LAN party hosted at my house, and it’d been a minor pain there, but I figured that those troubles were just a combination of murphy’s law and the integral of Murphy’s Law which dictates that the greater the complexity, the greater the failure chance.

So when I was moving out, I figured I’d grab the blamed thing and set it up in my dorm, to have wireless and a nice hardware firewall. Well, long story short, the thing just failed. Whether it was being moved, or it was just waiting to keel over on me, I don’t know, but it just would not work. Just before I junked the thing, I tried to simplify matters as far as possible. I plugged my computer into one of the LAN ports, and the router into the campus network. As far as I could tell, it couldn’t tell anything was connected, despite having blinky lights all over it’s front. At any rate, I chucked it out.

Netgear WGT624 Wireless Router: I just saw this bad boy on Tiger Direct today, and in a fit of impulse buying, drove over to the Tiger Direct store and picked me up one. It’s got b/g wireless, with WPA, all for $20. Plus, the thing just looks darn sleek. Think of all the positives of Apple design without any of the pejoratives, and you’ve got something approximating my enjoyment of this device. And, it’s tiny. Aside from being slightly thicker, it’s about the same size as my copy of I, Robot (which may or may not be my father’s copy…).

Also, when I plugged everything in and started it up, I was expecting to do the normal dance of setting it up, which is no great challenge to me, since I professionally mess up family member’s routers all the time. So setting up my own is simple, right? Thus, I had a knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, great!” when I saw the auto-configuration screen that I figured would just take longer than manually configuring this honey.

But I was wrong. The configuration utility got the latest firmware (automatically, natch), probed all sorts of networks, asked important questions like SSID, as well as strongly recommending adding encryption to the wireless and changing the admin password. But the true masterstroke is that, through some kind of NetGear black magic, makes it so that if, from behind this router, you navigate to http://www.routerlogin.net, the router intercepts the connection, and takes you to the configuration page. Login required, of course. This is simply amazing because it’s so ingenious: the entry-level user would have no clue what an IP address is, or how to find out the IP address of their router to access it directly. But by providing a static URL that they can bookmark or write down, this router will save so many people headaches, it’s stunning.

Energizer DUO USB Charger: This little thing can charge AAs or AAAs from either a powered USB port or a wall socket. Plus, (for gimmick value) if you have it plugged into a Windows computer with their software running, it will show a percent meter of charge, as well as time to full. With two rechargable AAAs included in the pack, it only ran $20.

On a recent trip to drive a friend down to college in Savannah, GA, I tossed this thing in my bag with a pair of AAAs in it, as spares for my MP3 player*. Charged ’em on the road from my laptop and my player never went dead. Sheer genius.

*As long as I’m giving high praise to my favorite gizmos: Creative MuVo v100. It’s an MP3 player that breaks into two parts: a battery holder, which takes a AAA, and a circuit-board piece that’s got all the flash memory and display, that looks suspiciously like a USB thumb drive. And it acts just like a thumb drive too. When I get to my computer at work, I turn it off, plug my headphones into my computer, break the player into it’s halves, set the battery part aside, plug in the USB bit, and fire up a media player to read the files straight off the “USB Mass Storage Device” that Windows thinks it is.

I got the 1GB model for $50ish about a year (or more?) ago, and the thing hasn’t once failed me. My only caveat is that the battery cover stayed snapped in by a small strip of plastic that snapped when I dropped it one day. But a thin strip of duct tape has done just as well. Plus, it’s not a real problem because I change the battery so infrequently anyways.

(A side note about the 1GB size, which I thought would be too small: Using a VBR WMA format, I’ve managed to get 22 hours of music that only fills 85% of the drive. Plus, some of those files aren’t in WMA, so if/when I fill it up, I can compress those for more space.)

In full disclosure, I feel I should mention the one thing that I didn’t buy, that I really should have: a nice power strip. With a 5-6 foot cord and plenty of outlets. However, a good friend of mine on campus had a spare that he’d bought and not ended up using. He gave it to me, I bought him dinner at Wendy’s, and we called it even.

Categories: College

A Local View

September 19, 2007 1 comment

From the local new station comes this little gem: Homeowner: Cary Wants My Land for Performing Arts Center.

Essentially, some entity within the town government of Cary, over-generalized into “the town of Cary,” wishes to build a performing arts center on this landowner’s plot, as well as eighteen other privately-owned plots. Normally, this wouldn’t be entirely worth pointing out, but in this case, there were a few things that perked up my ears.

The first is a quote from a Town Council Member who states that this publicly funded center will increase private investment and raise the quality of life in Cary. But I get a feeling there’s more to it than that. It’s not too far a jump from this private investment business to increased tax revenue. Waitaminnit… I’ve heard this one before. Anyone recall a little legal feud called Kelo v. New London?

I know it’s certainly taking it a bit far to immediately see a land-grabbing bureaucracy in this instance, but I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to it than the Town wanting to be philanthropic with other people’s money.

Which brings me to my next point: the funding. The same city council member paraphrased above is the chairwoman of a non-profit that is in charge of fund raising for these sorts of projects, and believes that they will be able to come up with the estimated $96.5 million this project is predicting. This, from a town of 121,457. That works out to about $800 per person. Cary has some generous folk, but I doubt that generous.

Luckily, the fine folks of Cary have Nels Roseland, a fellow Town Council Member, who sees to the heart of what’s going on. “In my opinion, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to duplicate something folks can access 15 minutes away in Raleigh. Private sector efforts are laudable, but the scope of that fund-raising and targets that would be needed are simply not realistic nor have ever been achieved in Cary.” He knows that when voluntary fund raising comes up short, involuntary fund raising (taxation) will probably end up being used.

I don’t follow Cary politics too closely, but this guy seems a pretty stand-up character. I have no idea how he’s gone on other issues, but if I had a say in such things, I’d give a good hard look as to re-electing him. After all, if he gets his way, he may save every voter in Cary at least $800.

Categories: Real Life

Can’t Stop the Signal

September 17, 2007 1 comment

Eons ago, in times only darkly remembered by the Old Ones, I played World of Warcraft on a server by the name of Kel’Thuzad with some fine folks that an associate of mine had come into contact with during the WoW beta. I was invited to join their guild, and began to rapidly ingratiate myself and do my best to be generally well-liked. Well, who knows how well that worked out, but what I did end up with was a few friendships that’ve lasted a good bit longer than I’d expected.

One among these is with a fellow who played WoW by the name of Ront, but goes by Wes in the light of day. You’ve heard of this guy before, and also here, but you can also hear from him at his own little corner of the ‘net.

He also invited me to contribute to his new site, and I’ve started doing just that. I don’t really have any idea of which parts of my writing will go on which site, but I’m sure I’ll find out if I wait long enough. At any rate, if you want to read more from me, head on over there and check out my inaugural post.

Categories: Gaming, Metablog

Good Point: 13 September 2007

September 13, 2007 Leave a comment

And now, our feature presentation: “The Trouble With Tribbles,” adapted for television by Edward Gorey.

Also, Britan goes mad. Again. (Cliff’s Notes: Set a “fair” cap on energy use per appliance, ban everything above that. And if you’re not doubting this group’s self-proclaimed Conservative pedigree, keep reading: “The group will also suggest scrapping Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of the nation’s success in favour of a model that measures people’s happiness drawn up by Friends of the Earth.” Friends of the Earth? Happiness? Kill me now.) Update: while they’re at it, they want to outlaw certain types of information too.

And as if you didn’t have to worry about the cold going ’round the office, there’s so much more out there to be afraid of.

Plus, it’s looking like the “proof” that Osama’s still kicking around somewhere is a fake.

Categories: Good Point