Ethereality News & Weblog

April 19, 2012

Leaving China soon

NEWS:
Elena and I are currently making plans to move back to The States. China’s gotten too toxic for us. There’s new toxic food scandals in the news in increasing frequency, and it’s far too scary to stay here, unable to tell which of the foods we buy are safe.

Just recently, even medicine have been tested as being toxic, containing poisonous heavy metals. The capsules used for thirteen over-the-counter medicine products have been flagged as having the poisonous capsules. The toxic capsules are made from processed old leather scraps (such as old shoes, hand bags). The immoral manufacturers try to cut costs that way instead of using food-grade gelatin.

It boggles my mind how short-sighted and stupid these people are. It’s not as if there’s an underground criminal network where they all know each other and can avoid the poisons that each other produces. So essentially, they are all just ingesting the poisons produced by fellow black-hearted food and medicine manufacturers from all over the country, and happily participating in this massive, slow suicide. For a country that’s notorious for being arrogant about how clever its people are, this is idiocy on a massive level that could only be described as the epic fail of an entire country.

Anyway, we’ll be flying back to The States sometime in May to look for a new home. We’re currently considering the Solano and Sacramento counties (closer to our price range, but still California). If any of you live in those areas and want to share some opinions on where best to live (safe, nice neighborhoods), or want hang out when we get there, just drop me a line.

SITE NEWS:
There’s now a The Best of Kitty Cat Diary section:

It’s been over ten years since I started posting Kitty Cat Diary entries, and by now, there are over 1,260 photos, so I decided to select my favorite ones and put them into a separate section.

WEBLOG:
After putting up with painfully slow bootup times (between five to ten minutes) for a few months on my main computer, I had enough and decided to upgrade to a solid state drive for the OS (Windows 7, 64-bit). The culprit for the exasperating slow speed was the old 80 GB SATA drive I was using, which was performing far below typical hard drives of similar specs. I ran some benchmarks, and the numbers told me just how slow the old drive was running:

maxtor_80GB.jpg

No wonder it took forever to bootup and load all the startup apps. Those numbers are shameful.

Here’s an old IDE drive that’s out-performing it:

samsung_ide_200GB.jpg

This is what typical SATA drives are supposed be like:

hitachi_3TB.jpg

I had no idea why the old 80 GB SATA drive was performing so badly, but it was the perfect excuse to finally experience SSD for myself, after having read so much about its legendary speed.

I hopped over to tomshardware.com to see some benchmarks for current SSD’s, and then to newegg.com to checked out the ratings and customer feedback. I ended up getting the Intel SSDSA2CW120G3 120 GB–modestly priced and with good performance. It came with a data migration software (technically, a lite version of Acronis True Image Home 2010), and it moved my OS to the SSD just fine, but I was getting odd error messages during bootup like missing language packs, or can’t boot from the CD, and other persistent weirdness. Eventually I got the sucker to bootup my migrated OS, but only after scouring the web for solutions, trying various tricks, and an endless string of expletives.

And HOLY COW, the legendary speed of running the OS on a SSD drive is no joke! Check out how fast the SSD performs in comparison:

Intel_SSD_120GB.jpg

I bet my neighbors heard the victory grunt I voiced when the OS booted up on the new SSD for the first time.

It used to take anywhere from five to ten minutes to bootup the OS and load all the startup apps, but now it only takes about a minute and ten seconds. It’s still not as fast as it could be though. My other computer that’s four-years old (also running Windows 7, 64-bit) boots up in under half of that time, and it’s running the OS off of a typical 7,200 rpm SATA hard drive (but that computer isn’t loading as many different drivers and apps during startup, being a dedicated DAW machine). I could probably do more tweaking and shorten the bootup time even more, but it’s already such a huge improvement compared to before that I’m not interested in sinking any more time into the matter. I’m just enjoying the upgrade and how fast all the apps bootup. Even a slow booting app like Photoshop now only takes about four seconds.

All in all, I would say the speed is worth the expensive asking price of SSD technology, but only for the OS drive. For typical storage, SATA hard drives are still much more cost efficient (especially now we have terabyte drives costing the same as the gigabyte drives from just a few years ago). I hear that hybrid drives (using SSD only as the cache) are also a good choice, having the best of both worlds. Maybe I’ll look into that next, but for now, my rig is running smoothly, and that’s the best I dare to hope for, having been through some maddening computer-related problems in the past.

I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy recently (haven’t seen the movie yet though). The books were briskly paced and the plot entertaining, but the premise was too far-fetched for me.

I didn’t for one minute believe that the characters in such a world wouldn’t have on-going conversations about, or attempts to find out what might be happening outside of Panem, or what the world was like before Panem and how they could have regressed so much. Even the fact that such a thing as The Hunger Games would even exist at all, was completely beyond my ability for suspension of disbelief. I didn’t believe it in Battle Royale‘s premise either, but at least that story had a somewhat delirious, surreal tone that’s meant to be kind of tongue-in-cheek.

Suspension of disbelief issues aside, I enjoyed the story, and finished all three books. That is a compliment, since I can’t remember the last time I actually read a trilogy from beginning to end without interruption. I think Suzanne Collins’ background as a television writer really honed her ability to craft engaging pacing and plot that’s all muscle and no flab.

I liked most of the characters in the books (especially Cinna and Finnick), but I’m not a fan of Katniss. This is a common problem in first-person narratives, where all the supporting characters are actually more interesting than the main character, yet you have to experience the story through the most boring character in the cast (I had the same problem with Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb). Well, at least Katniss is still more interesting than Bella Swan could ever hope to be.

Speaking of which, I tried to force myself to read Twilight a few days ago as a form of research, to see why it became such a phenomenal success, and I just couldn’t get through the first few chapters. I had to stop because the writing was just abysmal (I dislike trashing another writer like this–I usually try to show some restraint and be diplomatic, but in this case, just…wow).

The writing was essentially at the level of bad fan fiction, with awkward syntax, self-conscious diction, terrible grammar (and I’m not talking about creative usage, but simply ignorance), and a main character that I couldn’t stand to be around because she’s so incredibly dull, insecure, ungrateful, and shallow. It was a torture to read what’s essentially the angst-ridden diary of such a drab, unremarkable person.

And then it hits me. Bella is the fictional representation of a significant portion of Twilight readers, sharing similar traits with them, and these readers are simply living vicariously through her. They get to have a romance with an impossibly pretty boy that they can’t have sex with, while inexplicably attracting various other boys without ever having shown any traits that deserve such attention. What girl wouldn’t kill to be able to attract males without any effort at all, and no amount of clumsy shyness will diminish her allure? Is it any wonder that Twilight is so damn popular? It’s feeding the shallow vanity and wish-fulfillment of girls everywhere, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if these girls grow up and read an unhealthy number of trashy romance novels as their main literary diet.

Another thing that irritated me was Bella’s fake modesty. She won’t even acknowledge the fact that maybe those boys simply think she’s hot. I’m sorry, but every single attractive female I know is aware of her own beauty in some way, regardless of how insecure she might be or if she ever admits to it. There’s no way in hell a girl who moves into town and immediately gains a loyal male fan-base that follows her around like puppy dogs, isn’t in some way aware of her own physical beauty or is glad to be pretty–even if it’s just in secret. So not only is Bella a boring and unremarkable character, she’s also unrealistic because the author has no idea how to write believable characters (if you search the web, you’ll find lots of people accusing Bella Swan to be a Mary Sue).

The entire story of Twilight hinges on shallow physical attraction and nothing else (he’s so pretty, and she smells good. Seriously?). Romeo and Juliet had a shallow romance too, but at least the story had enjoyable prose propping up the love affair, and the tragic romance itself isn’t the ultimate point of the story–it merely served as a lens in which to examine the blind hatred between two aristocratic families, conveying how absurd and petty most human conflicts are. Without that crucial component, Romeo and Juiet would never have endured all these centuries.

Let’s hope that something else much better comes along to capture the hearts of young readers everywhere, gets adapted into popular movies, and ends up as a household name.

Oh wait, it’s already happened. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.

Quickie TV and Movie reviews:

The Walking Dead (Season Two) The firing of Frank Darabont was a big surprise, since he’s such a revered director, and the one who brought the whole thing together. But I suppose because it’s an adaptation, the studio felt safer to fire Darabont than if it was an original series that was created and written by him. As an adaptation, they at least already have a road map to reference, so as long as they don’t veer too far from the general vibe, it’s really more of a matter of logistics (considering the reasons why Darabont was fired).

Season two dragged on for a while, and then finally picked up pace with the barn plot twist. The tone of the episodes after the long hiatus between episode seven and eight were distinctly different. The new direction was less introspective and more straightforward action, and I have mixed feelings about the change; the quicker pace was more exciting, but it sometimes bordered on cheap sensationalism and soap-opera-like manipulation. If this continues, the series would be in danger of becoming too campy.

I’m still looking forward to season three though. Glen Mazzara (who replaced Frank Darabont) would have to really screw the pooch for me to give up on this series.

Ink – Ink is an indie sci-fi movie made with shoe-string budget, and has gained a cult following, but actually not very good. There’s cheap-looking, and then there’s Ink–which has that homemade video trying to look cinematic instead of just embracing what it really is. The director seemed to do action sequences best, but as a storyteller in general, he’s just not very good. The premise was interesting, but the world-building and the characters were so convoluted and one-dimensional that the whole thing amounts to not much more than an exercise in style over substance. The emotional core of the story that is the plot twist, was so predictable and unoriginal that enduring the movie all the way to the ending didn’t seem worth it.

I’m generally not a fan of the whole one-man production approach. I’ve seen too many examples of that over the years, and 99% of them were disappointing. Why choose to expressive your creative vision in a medium where you are handicapped and penalized for being a lone artist, and will be compared to much bigger productions? Why not tell your story in a medium where the playing field is completely flat, while budget and manpower has no bearing on how good of a story you can tell–mediums such as novels and graphic novels?

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – I was really looking forward to Brad Bird’s first live action feature film, curious to see if his directorial voice carries over from animation. After seeing the movie, I was neither disappointed or impressed. Maybe it’s because he didn’t write it, but the movie didn’t have a distinct vision–any number of today’s working directors could’ve directed it. In other words, I didn’t really sense any of Brad’s uniqueness in the direction–it was just another blockbuster action movie.

Léa Seydoux was really something though. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Her countenance reminded me of the kind of sensual, sweet allure that Kate Moss showed in her 1996 L’Oreal audition tape. Some women just have it, and it’s not due to looks, but how a woman feels on the inside and carries herself.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – A spy thriller that’s all about the psychological and emotional conflicts–basically what spycraft is like in real life, as opposed to how it’s usually depicted in most movies.

I had totally forgotten that Gary Oldman is actually an English actor, due to all the American roles he’s played over the years. He was very good in the movie, playing someone with so much self-control, which is opposite of the kind of explosive characters he often plays.

Buried – One guy, locked inside a coffin, for the entire movie. It was pretty clever, and kept me interested enough to want to see the ending, but it was also really boring to watch once I got over the novelty of the concept in the first twenty minutes. When you realize the entire movie is going to be just one guy in a dark coffin, you’ll be tempted to do something else while the movie plays, because you figure you won’t miss much if you just listened to the dialogues. I ended up doing other things on the computer while letting the movie play, and I didn’t miss a thing.

The Adventures of Tintin – This was probably the most disappointing film from Spielberg I’ve seen in decades. It lacked the charm of the source material, and on its own, didn’t have enough emotional resonance to compliment the action/adventure elements. I can’t help but feel that adding an interesting female protagonist to the Tintin and Haddock duo (well, trio, if you count Snowy) would have made the story a bit more well-rounded.

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