Tuesday, January 24, 2006

There are terrorists in our midst!

CNN Anchor: This just in. You are looking at obviously a very disturbing shot there. That is the courtyard of East and West Quad at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and we have unconfirmed reports that early this morning a man ran up to a snowman and decapitated its head.

CNN Center right now is just beginning to work on this story, obviously calling our sources and trying to figure out exactly what happened. But clearly, something relatively devastating happening this morning there on the north end of Colby College in Waterville, ME.

We are going to join another one of our Maine affiliates, WABC for their live coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... plane overhead, and then all of a sudden -- I thought it sounded kind of loud, and then I looked up and all of a sudden it a smashed right dead into a lone snowman. A big flash of flame, fire coming out from all over, then all the snow-- it's a huge hole right now. It almost looks like the man probably went through. I'm not sure.

CNN Anchor: President Bush, as you said, will make a statement here at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota about the catastrophe in Waterville, Maine. Following that statement, the president will board Air Force One and return immediately to Washington. We are told by White House officials traveling with the president in Sarasota that he was notified either shortly before 9:00 or shortly after. We don't have an exact moment of the notification of the president. We believe his chief of staff Andrew Card told him of the events in Maine. The president has been monitoring them as best as he can.

Investigators have two leads at this point. They suspect that this is the work of a duo of internationally wanted terrorists: all the agencies in the world have yet to obtain clear photographic descriptions of these two; most agencies only have two file photos of the suspected team of terrorists. They may be low in quality and we apologize.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Thermite Plasma

"Thermite plasma incendiary systems can burn hot enough to consume V.X....but they're still in the test phase; it's not operational!" - The Rock starring Sean Connery and Nick Cage

Right you are, General Peterson!

But do you want to know what happens when you burn thermite plasma on top of a car?

Of course you do! Click this link or the picture to see the video!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

PDAs and why I cannot use them

When I came to Colby College last fall, I brought with me a cornucopia of digital devices. Now, most of these devices I interact with and use on a daily basis, most notable are my alarm clock, laptop, digital camera, cell phone, iPod digital audio player (now replaced with my Cowon A2 PMP), and various other household electronics. I also brought with me a PocketPC – an HP Ipaq.

I’m not one of those people who likes to store every single detail of information on someone so that I have a complete database of emails, home phone numbers, work phone numbers, mobile phone numbers, home addresses, vacation addresses, secondary emails, zip codes, area codes, and whatever other codes there are out there. I rely on past messages to give me all the contact info needed to compose and send a text message, phone call, or email. And if they haven’t contacted me with their newest info, then why even bother storing the old one.

Other such applications for these PocketPCs are to jot down notes (like homework assignments) and to remind you of upcoming important events (due dates, birthdays, etc.). I’ve owned three such devices in the past, and all those times I’ve either not had the patience to store all the contact info I had (plus the entry I made would look very barren because I only entered in like 4 fields out of 40), or I accidentally forgot where I placed it only to find it 2 months later with no curiosity as to see what events I’ve missed during that time, if any.

But! Fear not, my consumer electronics brethren! I warranted such behavior on my youth, as the first Palm I owned was at the tender age of 12. The Palm M105, compared to the models out today, is like a 386 PC to a 3.8 GHz Alienware Area-51 behemoth; it just doesn’t compare. That was another thing I was hoping; surely by now they must have put better software on these things to make it easier for me to enter data. If you read my blog, you know I love streamlining things.

The screens of the new PocketPCs definitely look better, being all colorful and snazzy, but the functionality was just the same on the HP Ipaq as it was on the Palm M105. It was still hard to enter data and that damn technique of how to draw letters and numbers just irked me. At this point in my life, it is not absolutely imperative that I have the ability to check my email or voicemail wherever and whenever. I also don't need to surf the web "on-the-go," because frankly, I'm on a college campus and there is an ample supply of computers just floating around. Oh well, another couple of bucks down the drain for that device. With a new OS being touted by Microsoft – Windows Mobile 5.0 – for PDAs, PocketPCs, and whatnot, maybe in a couple of years I’ll fall into the consumer trap (for the fourth time) and buy another one of these devices out of pure curiosity. By the looks of the market, though, eventually I’ll have to buy one. Why, you ask? Well, they are implementing this technology into cell phones everyday, and owning a bulky PocketPC cell phone is all the rage these days with outstanding revenue generated from Palm Treo phones and Blackberry mobile devices. Motorola’s new flagship phone named “Q” looks like a winner, and I’ll have to see how that one performs in the upcoming months.

And come on…if Jack Bauer (from TV’s 24) is hardcore enough to carry around a Treo 650 cellphone/PocketPC and take high-quality snapshots with the phone’s integrated digital camera of Russian terrorists that have taken over a Los Angeles airport threatening to blow it to smithereens if their demands are not met, I should definitely own one too. Maybe then I can take high-quality digital pictures of grass, leaves, or maybe some nice, threatening rain-clouds.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is Classical Music really out of style?

I don’t know about you, but a well-played Mozart string quartet can really change how I feel. My spirits get lifted and I feel on top of the world. Am I the only one who feels this way? In this day and age, proclaiming that you enjoy Classical Music is like stamping a big red “LOSER” on your forehead. But why? Why does this happen to people who enjoy classical music?

Pretentious? Elitist? Square? Sure, classical music has been the music of choice for royalty ever since Josquin and Palestrina evolved Gregorian chant into lighthearted motets and chansons, but it is first and foremost music. And I don’t even care what kind of classical music you like. You could like Baroque music, Renaissance music, Medieval music, Neoclassical music, Rococo music, Atonal music, it doesn’t really matter. If you enjoy any one of those, you are looked down upon by popular culture. I know that not many people admire Baroque music. I don’t blame them, as Baroque music was supposed to be cerebral and give the person a chance to actually ‘listen’ to the music, rather than to just ‘hear’ it. It places a large amount of mental strain on the listener. I would not berate a person for finding Baroque music to not be particularly interesting. I personally think the Baroque period produced some of the finest pieces of music in the history of mankind. Bach’s genius is evident in his Brandenburg concertos as they still run chills through my bones whenever I hear them. The first uplifting notes of Brandenburg 3, the rousing harpsichord of Brandenburg 5, the mellow sound of Brandenburg 1; they all appeal to a range of senses that other music cannot. During the Classical period, Mozart’s overtures to his famous operas like Die Zauberflote, Idomeneo, or Don Giovanni have the same effect. Full orchestras of 30+ people coming together to make a harmony so wonderful and so praiseworthy should not be overlooked by people other than those who claim classical music to be “an acquired taste.” But it’s not just the sheer intensity of large symphonies that can produce this effect on a person. A cellist such as Yo-Yo Ma can play Bach’s solo Cello Suites to the point where people can feel the notes rushing through their head. Quartets by Mozart and Haydn encourage small-group playing and the combination of instruments produce a quality so textured and refined that every quartet sounds different, even if they are playing the exact same piece.

I’m not saying that everyone should like Classical music. Some people out there just plain hate it. But, people should not be driven away by the common stereotypes that have regretfully hung onto this genre of music for the past 400 years. It’s not ‘high-brow,’ it’s not ‘elite,’ it’s not ‘snobbish.’ It’s music. And one of the beauties of music is that anyone can listen to it and form their own opinions on it. So, try out classical music if you haven’t already. You’d be surprised at what treasures you can find. And by the way, it’s Mozart’s 250th on the 27th!

Console Wars and the Switch to PC

Japan has been the last bastion of hope when you think of Console Games. The "double dragon" Japanese corporate team of Sony and Nintendo continue to rule the console market in Asia and Europe. For us in the United States, Microsoft has worked its way to the number 2 spot ever since they debuted of the original Xbox in the winter of 2001. The decline in popularity of console games since the late 90s due to the advent of PC online gaming has been especially tough on those of us who grew up playing on old Nintendo, Sega, and Atari game consoles.

For me, the switch to PC gaming happened around the time of the release of the original Half-Life; in other words, 1998 was the tipping point. As mentioned in an earlier entry, I was already quite savvy with the whole concept of gaming on the computer. Duke Nukem 3d, Shadow Warrior, Command and Conquer, Doom, Quake, Commander Keen, Wolfenstein, and other such classic PC-DOS games were already fun in my mind. However, to play with other people, I still relied on my trusty SNES, PS1, N64, and whatnot. In 1994, trying to set up a PC ‘multiplayer’ game with a friend induced headaches, and usually parents did not want the house phone line tied up. So games like Super Mario Kart (1992), Starfox (1993), Street Fighter 2 (1993), and eventually games like Goldeneye 007 (1997) were the best and easiest ways to have a fun time with a couple of friends. However, after they left the house, the fun stopped and you were forced to play by yourself. This was of no concern, though, because games were quite well-made during those days and single-player was usually so enthralling that you stayed up till morning trying to “find this,” “get here,” or “kill this boss.”

Then came better graphics cards, broadband connectivity, and Half-Life in 1998. A year later during the summer of 1999, Beta 1.0 of a start-up, unknown mod named Counter-Strike (CS) hit the ‘net. On August 17, 1999 I warily clicked “Download from this mirror!” for CS Beta 2.1 from the original www.counter-strike.net website. The rest is just plain history. I’ve been playing counter-strike for ~7 years. Wow. But I’m proud that I can say I’ve been with CS since the relative beginning, playing through most of its constantly evolving life. (As an aside: CS Beta 6.5 was clearly the best version of the game, nothing has come close.) In 2002, I did it again. I clicked on “Download” for a mod called Firearms (FA). “Firearms” was a HL1 mod originally packaged with Half-Life. I joined gaming groups called “clans,” and by the time of its relative death in 2005, I was proud to retire as one of the top 10 Firearms players in the world. I met a great group of people playing that game, and I respect each and every one of them. To this day, I frequent their forums and await the FA team’s upcoming mod for HL2 called World at War.

I’m especially fond of the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre of gaming and the computer was the best possible vehicle for its evolution. Thus, console gaming lacked a certain quality whenever I tried to play on them. Halo, regarded as the king of console FPS’ is fun, yet I still find myself bored and looking for that “something else.” Whether that “something else” is a mouse and keyboard combo, superior graphics, or better multiplayer support, is indefinable. There are people out there who still like console games because they care for the franchises it was built upon. And I agree. Some games like the Metal Gear Solid series, the Resident Evil series, the Dead or Alive series, and so much more are solid, fun games on the consoles that PC gaming cannot touch. Thus, consoles are in a whole different league from PC gaming entirely. With the next-gen systems, like the Xbox 360, PS3, and Nintendo Revolution, one cannot help but make the comparison that these consoles are beginning to look a lot like PCs in the sense that they stray away from the classic console flavor of games like Chrono Trigger or Ninja Gaiden. Indeed, a lot of the next-gen “launch” games are PC ports in and of themselves. This is very disappointing to see as I would like to see a continuation of this unique cultural entertainment form. But it is a bit too early to make judgments about these systems without waiting until they launch and allowing us to view what they have in store. Microsoft’s latest entry was a tad disappointing, let’s hope Sony and Nintendo can change our minds.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A 24-hour rollercoaster ride!

Jack Bauer does it again. He comes out of nowhere to kick some ass. The season opener of '24' was pretty darn good, and I hope to see more of it in the upcoming months.


I was really disappointed with the assassination of David Palmer. And it happened in the first 3 minutes! When he first came on screen, I was like, "Sweet, Prez Palmer is back!" Then he proceeds to get shot in the throat. Devastating, really. Wayne Palmer is also back, and it looks like he'll play a much more significant role this time around (and he looks useful for once). Michelle is dead, Tony is in critical condition (again). And knowing Tony, he has been in critical condition before, and like 4 hours after major surgery he is running CTU once again. Tony, you are badass. Chloe is back, dull and looking angrier than ever. The usual suspects like Curtis and Edgar still have their positions at CTU. Audrey Raines, Jack's love interest last season, reprises as the Dept. of Defense liaison to CTU. Kim Bauer has yet to show her lovely face, but I believe she will make a four episode appearance in the coming weeks, if my sources are correct.

Now, regarding the plot thus far, I think the nosey kid who tries to follow Jack is a dim-witted fool. He especially seemed worthless at the end of the second hour when he sees some suspicious people getting out of a van and takes it upon himself to go and 'warn Jack.' Come on kid, this is Jack freakin' Bauer, he can take care of himself. Tomorrow's preview shows the kid getting caught by these Russian terrorists and placed as a life-ransom: either the terrorists get what they want or the kid is dead. Wow... :shakes head:

***END of Spoilers***

Looks like it's going to be a quality season, though the beginning of the first episode happened so quickly that the rest of the time seemed like filler. Still, I'm really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm talking about the thriller show on Fox called '24.' I suggest looking into it.

I leave you with a quote from Jack Bauer:

"You probably don't think that I can force this towel down your throat. But trust me, I can. All the way. Except I'd hold onto this one little bit at the end. When your stomach starts to digest it, I pull it out. Taking your stomach lining with it. For most people it would take about a week to die. It's very painful."


Saturday, January 14, 2006

San Francisco to LA in an hour? Not on a plane!?! Blasphemy!

I was referred to a google video by a friend that showed a test run of a Japanese MagLev (Magnetic Levitation) train. Honestly, I wasn't expecting much. Maybe a tad faster than the bullet trains that continue to define Japanese transportation. But no! This was a train that went a full 60% faster than the newest, most renovated bullet trains out there! This thing had a top speed of 502km/h! How amazing is that! I've looked into the concept of MagLev trains and came across an interesting article that explained Shanghai's MagLev. I didn't even know these things were in production or being built, let alone already used by people.

When talking to my friend about this, he told me that the upkeep of these behemoths would be so gargantuan that making large-scale ones in the United States would be impossible at the moment. Maybe in 10-15 years it might be plausible, but even then it would be hard to lay thousands of miles track without the upkeep costs skyrocketing. Small-scale ones, sure, and I believe the US has already invested into building a MagLev that connects Washington D.C. and Baltimore, one that surrounds the city of Pittsburgh, and one that connects all of Los Angeles' airfields and airports.

This kind of speed with no pollution whatsoever brings us to a new stage of engineering potential. In 20-30 years, intercontinental travel might be possible on these babies and the only barrier to production would be the initial cost of building the track. Just think, New York to London, San Francisco to Tokyo, Miami to vacation spots in the Caribbean. Business and pleasure travel would be so accessible. With no fuel cost, MagLev tickets have the possibility to be cheaper than plane tickets.

Weird Weather

Explain to me this: how can it be that two days ago it was 10 degrees with severe snowstorms and now be 54 degrees with torrential downpours?! How? I am seriously befuddled! I mean, it's hotter here in Maine than it is in San Francisco. And this is January Maine we are talking about. Not March Maine or September Maine. JANUARY Maine. This is the time when all the horror stories are supposed to come true; when temperatures plummet to -20, the wind is so harsh that your face gets ripped to shreds, and the snow pelts you with the force of a single black hole. But why am I complaining? It just feels more like home!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Why Can't We Be Friends?

Left in the wake of CES and Macworld, I just can’t stop thinking about Microsoft and Apple’s bitter rivalry. I really can’t. I really want to cheer both sides on since competition is a wonderful thing when developing new sorts of ideas in the world of technology. However, people seem to choose a company and automatically be it’s elite, super consumer-servant. My gosh man! It’s pretty childish to choose one thing and berate its closest substitute. People throw the word ‘elitist’ around, and the most common elitist out there is the “Mac elitist.” These guys are just so adamant about their holy crusade against Microsoft and anything to do with the Windows/Linux PC world. (Because Apple Computers are still Personal Computers in and of themselves.) Apple CEO Steve Jobs leads the elitist pack with his very condescending remarks about the PC, especially notable in the Apple advertisement they debuted at Macworld showing off their brand-new Intel Processors.

When you throw out the word elitist, however, you automatically define yourself as a person on the other end of the spectrum. Speaking from my own point of view, I really can’t see myself switching over to the Apple-end. I’ve become heavily reliant on my Windows OS and the subtleties that go with 15 years of experience on Windows machines. (Yes, yes, I’ve spent a very long time fiddling around with PCs! I still can picture myself playing the Bialosky Bear program when I was 4 on such a primitive IBM PC. I still can picture the time I played my first direct connect (TCP/IP) multiplayer game using my 36.6k modem!) If you think I am oblivious to the other side, you are wrong. I have been using Macintosh computers ever since Kindergarten and throughout my life in academia I have always befriended an Apple computer. I’ve had plenty of time to discover and explore the Apple OS. It just feels chunky (in the sense that I know where everything is in Windows) to me, and not useable. This is of course, through my computing preference and how I work. With Apple’s newest OS, called OS X, I just feel myself looking at it. Looking at its beauty and how it’s so streamlined and pretty (for a lack of a better word)! So clean, so organized, yet so simple. Windows pop out graphically with an animation, a little “dock” sits on the screen holding any application you want with it just waiting for you to click, little innovative, elegant widgets are scattered throughout the screen. Everything seems so “in-reach.” To me, though, my praise of OS X mostly deals with the aesthetic. And also! How could I forget? The machines themselves are absolutely gorgeous! Sleek and stylish. That’s how I would define most of Apple’s products. Thus, for the looks, I’d definately buy a copy and dual-boot my system with OS X for my internet and word processing needs while use Windows for gaming and other such PC-oriented software.

So whenever I look at that and compare it to my Windows XP PC, I just can’t help to be envious. Maybe that’s why Microsoft’s upcoming OS, Windows Vista, is so appealing to me. They incorporate some of Apple’s strong points and integrate it into their own OS and also making improvements on the basic foundations of any Windows PC (like the Start menu). Many people keep making side-by-side comparisons of Mac’s current OS X and Windows Vista. They make snide comments on how Microsoft “copied this” and “stole this.” Well, good for you. Finally, Microsoft is trying to appease the customer. Can’t you be happy about that? What would happen if they were gone? No competition! Ideas would be churning out slowly, and nothing would ever come about.

One could point out that, “Ooo! Finally Mac made the switch to Intel processors, finally they see the light! Hey, wait a minute, they’re copying PCs now!” Through my internet adventures, I’ve found less people making that comment on internet blogs or newssites and more people making hateful “Micro$oft” ones. Now the focus is on Apple, who, with their new Intel chips, decided they would not hinder the installation process of Windows Vista (WinXp would not work because the new Intel Duo processors are not built upon the BIOS code, which processors traditionally were built upon) on new Intel Macs. However, Mac has decided to let their OS X be made just for Apples; meaning, Windows users like me would not be able to use their pretty OS on Windows machines (unless of course, the OS is hacked). That just angers me. A lot. Why does it have to keep being a battle of rights managements between these big corporations! I just may be naïve or oblivious to the whole point behind this, but I don’t like the fact that one side supports the other’s software (allowing users to choose), while the other side gets no choice. That’s just crude and selfish. Let the consumers choose Apple, don’t be a selfish brute and make our decisions for us.

Will I buy a Mac now that I can run Windows on it? Maybe. They certainly seem faster at the moment, being the first with the new Intel D chips in them, which would mean the new Macs would perform twice as fast as a regular Pentium M 1.86 GhZ chip. But no worries, Apple isn’t the only one utilizing the new Intel D chip with Dell and other PC manufacturers waiting in the ranks. So, at this point in time, I’ll be waiting patiently for OS X to come to the PC. I’m sure someone out there will figure it out in like 2 days.

P.S. By the way Apple, please implement better audio quality hardware into your iPods and don’t force us to convert files to freakin’ .m4a and .m4v files and use iTunes. There you go again Apple! Making decisions for us once again! Shame on you!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lessons learned from CES

First off, I’d like to thank everyone that wished me a happy birthday a couple days ago, I really really appreciate it! Thanks! Just to let you know, I had an awesome birthday.

Now, I’ve been constantly monitoring the products and ideas that have permeated out of the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show happening in Las Vegas, NV for the past few days. As usual, all the big guns in the Tech industry (except for Steve Jobs who will make a later appearance at his own Macworld conference next week) made their keynotes and astonished us with their brazen, hard-hitting new ideas and possibilities for the near-future. Watching Bill Gates make his keynote made me realize the kind of breakthroughs that the tech industry has made just in the last 5 years. We are at a point in time where a year can make a big difference in how your lifestyle changes. Acknowledging that the Internet was the single, most pivotal invention in my generation, we can only speculate as what is in store for us over the next 20 or so years. Will it stop? Are we coming to an age where no one will understand what is going on anymore? Where the general public will have to take ‘on faith’ what the scientists and technologists are saying? Will the world become engulfed in a new mind ethos of listening to evangelists and religious fanatics just because it is ‘easier’ to understand and more accessible to them rather than advancing nanotechnology? Sometimes it’s scary to think about these things and they sure are tough questions. No one has an answer to these, and we just have to, ironically, take it upon ‘faith’ to make sure that our world doesn’t become a place of ignorance and a breeding ground for apathy (more than it already is).

But away with this philosophical mumbo-jumbo! CES 2006 really showed off some cool stuff! Wacky designs, innovative functionality, and sleek usability brings us ever so close to the day when our world will look like the one in “Minority Report” or “The Island” or in the future, “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” or “Serenity.” In his opening keynote, Bill Gates himself had these cool prototype sets that envisioned how we would be living in the next 4 years. He had a huge LCD monitor showing how easy it was to track people, call people, make notes, get directions, get news, order food, make business decisions, etc. (all using MS Windows, of course!) Everything was connected seamlessly, his car, his home, his phone, his office, his kids, his wife, the family’s events, his business trips, ways of digesting media…and it all came together to make a web of ease of use. This will be the future in 4 years. It really is hard to believe. But I believe it. And I believe that at the pace the industry is going at, we should be getting holographic communication in the next 10 or so years; now how cool would that be?

This got me thinking. How does it all fit into the family business? How has the medium of audio and the medium of video combined to make a synergy of itself? Consumer electronics seem to be focusing on a more direct approach with the consumer. Acquiring and storing all your precious DVDs, Music, Pictures, Video Games etc. will be on a dedicated machine called a Media Center. With the advent of digital distribution software like iTunes, and Microsoft’s upcoming “Urge”, it is only a matter of time before the living room becomes the center of the home, the center of family, the center of life. Not to be overly dramatic here, but it has the possibility of controlling our lives. One small box will control the means we get our entertainment and will dictate how we can enjoy that entertainment. Of course, this kind of trendsetting will make consumer’s hunger for the best possible home theatre in terms of audio equipment. The best amplifiers, the best speakers, the best mixers will all be used in one harmonic move. People will become ravenous audiophiles, searching for the best one that improves the look of their entertainment center, that improves the quality of the sound, that improves how they live their lives. This is where our company comes in. Focusing on this market will give a larger share of the profits. Yes, we will have more expenses in terms of the margin, but we will have greater visibility, and that is what matters. Karaoke enthusiasts, audiophiles, AV techs, hardcore DJs, and insatiable Home Theatre gurus will be the demographic marketed to. CES is the perfect place to do this. With a radical new change in design and a new outlook on how to market our products, I believe I can help turn the company around and bring back profits in excess. I have just the right knowledge of the industry, of the entrepreneurial side, of the age spectrum, and most importantly, I have the drive to see this company succeed and become larger than it has ever been.

In conclusion, watch out guys, I might just be manning the booth next year displaying our brand new, insanely sweet looking Denon amplifiers at CES 2007. Engadget guys…digg folks…this is a heads up!