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My last post – from well over a year ago – is part of a set that never came to completion. It appears that I have more interesting things to do in my free time than to chronicle the interesting things I do. I’m still musing over the possibility of posting the occasional update and contemplation, but the blog doesn’t seem to be conducive to creative self-expression for me. This random post, however, should indicate that I have not entirely given up on the idea. Fare thee well!
As Ryan and I arrived as PAX, we went into the auditorium that had been set up to house the line for entry. We stood in that line for about an hour and a half, although I now believe the line was probably just for the keynote, which we hadn’t planned on attending. There wasn’t really anything to do at that point, though, so standing in line gave us a chance to chat with some other attendees. I also took the opportunity to eat some pizza I had brought for lunch. As we got through the keynote line, my top priority was to get into line to register for the Super Smash Bros.: Brawl tournament, which was supposed to start at 15:30. Ryan wanted to see the Designing a Free-to-Play Game panel, so we split up and I registered for both of us. I then decided to check out the Exhibition Hall while I waited for the tournament to start. I didn’t have a chance to see much, but it gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with the layout of the Convention Center. When I went back to the tournament room, I found that Ryan had returned before his panel ended. Unfortunate, since the tournament got pushed back to 16:00. We decided to look around the Exhibition Hall to kill some time, then we returned, waited in line and finally got into the tournament room.
Rules for this year’s tournament were changed from last year to allow for longer competition. Items and particularly annoying stages were disabled. Stages were selected randomly, unless both players could decide on a map. Rounds were only three stock with a six minute time limit, but matches were best of three rounds. Any round ending in a draw was started over and decided with one stock, since Sudden Death heavily favors certain characters. The tournament roster had filled completely and there were many alternates waiting to be admitted. Observers were also permitted, so the room was pretty crowded. Yet, somehow, I found myself without an opponent for my first match. It was infuriating, because I was in the seventh of eight matches in my initial bracket, so I’d had to wait a long time – particularly with the best-of-three matches – just to be told I’d have to wait some more. Also, I was planning on using the GameCube controller for the for the tournament – which I had never done before in Brawl – and, because someone in my bracket thought the tournament had started 20 minutes early, I hadn’t had the opportunity to warm up. That later proved to be my downfall.
When I finally did get the chance to play, I was matched against a Toon Link player who was obsessed with throwing bombs. Our first round was on Green Hill Zone. I started out by jumping in place and firing arrows. I also shielded for no reason and performed basic attacks when I tried to jump. My brain was certainly not yet wired for the GameCube controller. It was pathetic, but at least I got the hand of the controls in time to avoid being swept. In round two, we fought on Jungle Japes. I was more comfortable with the controls at that point, but I still slipped up at crucial moments. As a result, I got pulled down into the water one too many times and once again lost the match. I was told, though, that I put on a good show and gave everyone an exciting match, which many of the other players I’d been watching had certainly failed to do. Ryan fared a little better than I did. He faced a Peach player in his first match and was able to claim a solid victory. Unfortunately, his second opponent – another Peach player – happened to be one of the players who would later make it to the finals. After our losses, we got in some open games, then we stuck around to watch the rest of the tournament. We caught an inspiring Link battle that had a terrific surprise ending. We saw our old pal F1st lose to a fearsome Samus player. Finally, we saw Mr. Game & Watch take victory over the Peach player who had beaten Ryan. I was disappointed because I found the player who won to be annoying and his play style boring. All he could do to make it seem interesting was joke about Mr. Game & Watch’s apparent invulnerability while he played, which is what I found most annoying about him. Fortunately, his opponent kept the match interesting.
After the tournament, Ryan and I went to the Console Free Play area. We didn’t even need to check out a console since they had two dedicated Brawl stations in one of the LFG rooms. We spent the rest of the night playing Brawl against other attendees, usually faring better than we had in the tournament. As it got close to midnight, we decided to leave to avoid getting locked in the parking garage. It may not have been necessary, but we didn’t want to take our chances. In fact, we thought we may have been too late when the entrance we’d used was gated off. Fortunately, the lower exit was still accessible. After a little turnaround trying to get onto the freeway, we finally got ourselves going in the right direction and headed home.
Our first day of PAX was fun, although it lacked any real surprises. We did about as well as we usually do in the Smash tournament. We missed a few panels that looked interesting in order to compete. We got some practice in against other players in Brawl. Outside of Smash, I got come pictures of some interesting cosplayers. We still had a lot of things left to experience at PAX and two days left to experience it. I shall tell of that another time. Fare thee well!
Another year of PAX has come and gone. Another weekend of crowds and competition, games and gadgets, previews and panels. Once again, Ryan B. and I made our way to the venue, once again at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in Seattle, to enjoy a weekend of gamer geek gathering. Though it remains much the same event as in the past, there were some noticeable differences this year. The most significant changes were in the overall organization.
One group of activities that benefited from the streamlined organization was the console tournaments. They were scheduled for the amount of time they actually needed and everyone was registered much closer to the official start times than last year. The Handheld Lounge, which last year had spilled beyond its bounds, this year was set up in three different locations, providing a convenient respite for many weary gamers. The most welcome change for me was the new way Console Free Play was handled. Instead of waiting in line for an hour to check out a station for 15 minutes like last year, this time gamers were able to grab a number, hit one of the dedicated consoles in the LFG rooms and wait for their numbers to be called before getting in a much shorter line to check out a station for at least 30 minutes. Those who had a station wouldn’t be asked to leave unless their station was actually needed. Also, the need for a new station checked out to replace one of the same game was diminished by the availability of a screen that listed the top ten games checked out and at which stations they could be found. That made it much easier to find someone to challenge to some friendly competition in the game of your choice and made the challenges generally last longer. This was especially welcome considering the ridiculous number of attendees this year.
Last year, PAX was huge. It was expected to be much bigger than previous years, so it was moved from the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue to the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in Seattle. Even with the new venue, it was crowded. This year, it was even more crowded. In fact, there were nearly twice as many attendees as last year, totaling over 70,000. Some extra space was made for the larger crowds by moving most tabletop gaming areas across the street to the Pike St. Annex, but it wasn’t much. I heard from one attendee that there are plans to split next year’s event into East/West, which sounds like a good idea, but I didn’t see any mention of it on the official site.
It’s good to see so many people interested in this type of gaming event and it’s nice to have the opportunity to meet so many of them. But, with the number of people that filled the Convention Center this year, it was difficult to get around. So, if you plan on attending PAX at some point in the future, don’t be disappointed if the panels you want to see are full or lines are too long. Instead, take the opportunity to talk with some of the other attendees. Get some pictures of the many costumes you’ll see. If you’re patient and a bit lucky, you can get into some of the pre-release demos in the Exhibition Hall, but don’t make that your only reason for attending. Everyone there is there because they love games, so you’re certain to find someone with similar interests to your own. Make the most of it and you’ll have fun.
That concludes my overall impressions of PAX 2008. I’ll begin a focused recount of each day starting tomorrow. Once again, I’m glad I went to the event and I have plenty to share. I look forward to attending PAX in the years to come. Fare thee well!

I decided some time ago that I would put an array of 4 large hard discs in my new computer at some point. About a week ago, that point had come. So, I searched online for the best deals on high-capacity SATA II hard drives, keeping a close eye on Western Digital, as they are my preferred brand. After a bit of bargain hunting I finally decided to purchase four Western Digital SE16 750GB drives from Mwave.com, since they had the best base price and low-cost shipping and I’ve shopped with them to great satisfaction before. Even though I placed my order later than anticipated, the drives still arrived at my door just in time for the weekend.
Before installing the drives, I collected the serial numbers so that I could register them, as I like to ensure that I have warranty coverage in case I need it. The first part of the installation was simple; all I had to do was remove my drive cage and bolt the drives into position within. Below, you can see the simple work area before installation and the filled drive cage after installation. Actually placing the full drive cage inside the computer, however, proved unexpectedly challenging.

     
I already had enough power connectors running to my lower drive bay for all four drives because I had left two cables running to the empty drive cage, knowing that I would eventually fill it with hard drives. What I hadn’t realized at the time is how close to the lower fan the power cables would be once the hard drives were in place. I also hadn’t realized how bulky a coil of six SATA cables would actually be. After a thorough examination of the empty spaces in the vicinity of the cables, I located two ideal locations for the excess coils. I wound the SATA cables as neatly as I could and placed them along the far side of the upper hard drive cage, where there is no air flow to be blocked. I pulled the excess from the power cables back into the chamber that houses the power supply and coiled them up next to the lower fan, again in a section that doesn’t have air flowing through it. The results of this new cable management can be seen below.
     
You may notice that I no longer have the stock Intel CPU cooler. You can see it better in the images below, but keep in mind that those pictures were taken before any of the pictures above. I actually performed that upgrade a few weeks ago, placing a Zalman CNPS7700-Cu on my Q6600 in order to get better cooling performance. I also wanted something with a backplate, since the stock cooler seemed as though it wanted to push my processor out the back of my high-end motherboard. Even with my proc overclocked to 3.0 GHz and my RAM running at 1333 MHz I’d been running the new cooler at around 1300 RPM. With the new hard drives, though, and the weather as atrociously hot as it is, I decided to turn the fan up to 1800 and it’s still running quietly. The biggest problem is that it’s heavy, so I have to be careful when moving my computer to avoid putting too much strain on the motherboard. But, it should serve my needs until I figure out a decent liquid-cooling solution.

     

After getting everything installed and cleaned up it was time to set up my four new drives in a single RAID array. First, I went into my BIOS and activated its JMicron RAID controller and enabled RAID for each of the four new hard drives. Deciding to employ some level of redundancy until I am able to implement a real backup solution, I started the RAID utility and selected all four drives for a RAID1+0 configuration. After that, I booted up Kubuntu and began researching how to set up RAID in Linux. I was rather surprised to see a large preference for software RAID over hardware RAID and even more surprised to learn one of the primary reasons behind it.
During my research, largely at The Software-RAID HOWTO, I learned a great deal about RAID; probably more than I really wanted to learn. For instance, I leaned that the settings I had just made in my BIOS were completely useless because my onboard RAID controller is actually just a frontend for my BIOS to set aside selected drives for RAID while the actual array management is handled in software through drivers in a compatible OS. Linux, as it turns out, is not a compatible OS. It doesn’t really matter, though, since onboard RAID is really just software RAID that pretends to be hardware RAID and is hardware-specific, anyway. Hence, the aforementioned preference for software RAID, given the very high price of true hardware RAID. So, I freed up the drives in my BIOS, disabled the JMicron RAID controller and proceeded to set up software RAID 10, which I’d read performs a bit better in Linux than RAID1+0 using the same configuration. After a bit of confusion over whether to format the drives then set up the array, or to format after the array was set up, I went with the latter and created a partitionable 1.4 TB striped and mirrored array, which I then set up to mount automatically when I start Kubuntu.
Now that I have 1.4 TB of space – double that once I switch over to a four-drive-wide striped array – I need to fill it. The first order of business is to migrate my /home directory over and symlink to it. That will ensure that all of my settings and large files are saved by default to the new array. The next task, I believe, is to backup all of my DVDs. I don’t have too many, so they should fit, even if I keep archival backups in .iso format. I expect the backup process itself to take a good deal of time. But, I suspect that cataloging all the backups to my stringent specifications will take even longer. Fare thee well!
For the final entry on my new computer, I would like to cover my experience building it. The parts all arrived in time for me to spend Memorial Day weekend building and configuring my new system. As luck would have it, this was by far the smoothest a custom build has ever gone for me.
First off, meet The Beast. This is the first system I ever built on my own, about 7 years ago. Incidentally, it’s the system I’m just now replacing. I’ve put together other computers in the meantime, mostly for my roommate. But, I never got around to upgrading my own computer, despite needing to do so for quite some time.
Now, on to the new. All of the parts arrived the same week they shipped. You can see most of them in their original packaging below. The media card reader, as it turns out, was hiding in the box for the case, so it isn’t in this picture. The hard drive is there, but it’s hiding behind the Corsair memory. It was packaged OEM, anyway, so it doesn’t need to be in this shot. On the right, everything is visible out-of-box with a few of the more useful accessories.
     
After opening everything up, I decided that I would try to read along with the instructions (one of many odd quirks of mine) during assembly. This had me cross-referencing between two sets of instructions for each component, as I saw how it was expected to be installed from both sides of the installation. Doing that also had the benefit of prolonging the building experience to nearly 7 hours. The only component that gave me any trouble was the CPU cooler. After installing it, I noticed it caused the board to bend just under the CPU. It was a severe enough distortion that I removed the cooler and checked to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently left a clear cover, or some other obstruction, between the CPU and the cooler. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary and the thermal compound was smeared properly, so I put the cooler back on and just accepted the disdain with which it was treating my motherboard (the single most expensive component of this computer).
After I got everything installed and hooked up, I noticed that there really wasn’t enough room for the power cables to reach their little inlets inside the main chamber and still be able to reach around the motherboard to their respective plugs. The instructions had said to feed the power cables into the main chamber and pass any cables needed for the lower hard drives back down to the lower chamber on the other side of the central fan. I left that last part as instructed, but I decided to try something different with the rest of the power. I fed all of the cables for the main chamber directly behind the motherboard and to the slots that allowed them back into the main chamber. Since the slots are intended to line up with the plugs on an ATX motherboard, the cables reached with very little excess around the board. The 8-pin CPU power cable was a bit of a stretch to get in place, but fitting it onto the board left it with just enough slack for me to decide to leave it as it was. I was also able to connect 3 of my 4 fans behind the motherboard. The front panel cables and Serial ATA cables were easy enough to coil the excess and tuck away out of the path of airflow.
     
My old case just didn’t have a good place to put excess cables. Also, I had a pair of round IDE cables I needed to deal with. Throw in 8 case fans and I couldn’t figure out any way of hiding the excess. I tried stuffing as much as I could in the drive cage above the optical drive, but that left a good deal still hanging out. I tried to stuff everything else to the side out of the airflow, but I couldn’t get it in the far side and it just looked terrible near the windowed side panel. I left it that way, though. I might be able to do something with it now, but it’s just not worth the trouble.
     
Once I got everything together and running, it was time to install my OS. The initial installation of Kubuntu 8.04 went smoothly. Kubuntu saw the SATA hard drive and placed itself across most of the free space, setting up a 6 GB swap partition on the rest of the drive. After that, I decided to transfer all of my Kubuntu data from my old computer. So, I took out the old hard drive, hooked it up so it sat on my desk and booted up to start the transfer. At first, I couldn’t boot. I checked the BIOS and found that it wanted to boot to the IDE drive, so I gave the SATA drive priority and tried again. It worked. I then transferred my entire Home directory onto the new drive. That was a mistake. Kubuntu immediately accepted every setting in there, which didn’t work with a fresh installation that was lacking many of the programs I had used before. I decided to try again with a fresh install. It took me awhile to figure out that I couldn’t reinstall without first removing the IDE drive. After that, I put only the data I really needed onto my new system and it’s been running beautifully. The only problem so far is how slow it reads data over IDE. The transfer rates I was getting were usually around 200 KB/s and I never saw them spike above 8 MB/s. Since I’m not actually using IDE, that shouldn’t matter now that I’ve transferred everything over.
     
So far, my new computer is great! Even with four case fans it runs quietly, especially compared to my old computer. The case is big, but it has an excellent design and a sleek, simple look. I love the silence, the cable management and the front panel that swings out flush with the side panel. I’m sure I’m going to like the air filters being so easy to get to and clean. The hard drive is awesome. It’s screaming fast, but so quiet I barely notice it. It has a clear plexiglass window to show off the top platter and read/write head. It’s a shame my case isn’t designed to show it off, though. Most of all, I love the motherboard I got. It is a thing of beauty. I was wary of the price, but it looks like it’s going to be worth every penny. The layout is standard ATX, but with a few design improvements to make connections more convenient. The heat pipe system is perfectly situated to utilize spilloff from the CPU cooler and includes a water block over the northbridge chipset, allowing for seamless integration with a liquid cooling system. The audio card that was included with it rivals my old SoundBlaster Audigy 2. It has enough ports that I’ll probably never utilize them all, but it sure is nice to have the option. It also has a slew of handy overclocking features that I may use some time down the road. Hopefully, the rest of the components work out as well. Although, I am a bit worried about the power supply. I can accept that it isn’t modular, since my case has brilliant cable management features. But, it occasionally makes a subtle buzzing sound that has me a bit worried. I may just be paranoid since my last power supply incident, but I’m going to keep a close eye on it.
This project was long overdue. I’ve needed a new computer for years. Fortunately, it looks like I picked a pretty good time to put one together. Also, coupled with what I’ve learned over the years about selecting components, I was able to make choices that, so far, I’m pretty happy with. I hope that all of my future upgrades go as smoothly as this one did. Fare thee well!
I spent over a month deciding what components I would get for my new computer. I already had an idea of which brands I wanted and I was adamant about putting together an Intel-based multi-core system, but I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t get burned by brand loyalty or left behind in a week or two when a new version of a product I chose was released. So, I started my quest for the ideal components by checking out a couple of review sites.
First, I visited TomsHardware.com. By some good fortune, they had just completed a System Builder Marathon, in which they piece together the best computer they can in 3 price ranges. There are other limitations besides cost, including part availability within their deadline. From their middle and high-end picks I was able to make a sound decision on most of the components I wanted. I was unsure about their choice of optical drive, though, so I headed over to c|net to see what they had to say.
After all of my scouring and checking for compatibility, here is what I finally settled on, and why:
CPU – Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600. I’ve heard many good things about the performance, reliability and overclockability of Intel‘s Core 2 processors. I wanted a quad-core processor so that I could run Windows XP Professional virtualized in Kubuntu, with enough power left over for some DirectX 9 gaming. The price on the entry-level Q6600 was low enough to make it worth getting over a higher-clocked Duo. I’ve also heard of it being overclocked from its native 2.4 GHz to 3.5 GHz on air cooling.
Motherboard – ASUS Striker II NSE. I love ASUS. I miss my ASUS motherboard that died when an old, cheap power supply fried and took half my old computer down with it. So, I was delighted to see that TomsHardware.com chose an ASUS board for their high-cost system in their System Builder Marathon. They went with the Striker II Formula, which supports Intel‘s latest Core 2 processors, but it doesn’t have the native 1600 frontside bus afforded by nVidia‘s nForce 790i SLI chipset – something I wanted to ensure maximum upgradeability. Unfortunately, the next board up at the time was the Striker II Extreme, which also offers extended memory overclocking features at a premium price tag. While I was selecting my other parts, however, ASUS announced the Striker II NSE, which falls between the other two boards. I went with that, since it has the nForce 790i SLI chipset, full DDR3 support, SupremeFX II audio card (a PCI-e x1 audio riser included with their high-end gaming boards), support for 6 Serial ATA drives and just about every other feature I could desire from a motherboard for about $70 less than the Extreme.
RAM – Corsair TWIN3X2048-1066C7. Corsair was the memory of choice at TomsHardware.com and I’ve had good luck with them in the past. I just wanted a couple of gigs that could run dual-channeled on my board, so I went with a twin pack of 1 GB DDR3 modules clocked at 1066. I can wait until prices on DDR3 come down before upgrading to something faster.
Video Card – ASUS EN8600GT SILENT/HTDP/512M. nVidia tends to have better OpenGL support than ATI. I don’t need anything cutting-edge, so the 8600GT GPU should be sufficient. Again, I went with ASUS because I trust them and they offer lower-power video cards with silent, fanless coolers. The price difference between the 256 MB and 512 MB versions were close enough, I went with 512 MB DDR3.
Hard Drive – Western Digital Raptor X WD1500AHFD. Another pick by TomsHardware.com, the Raptor drives are backed by brand reputation and proven performance. Essentially, I couldn’t find a compelling reason to go with anything else. The Raptor X caught my attention because, while the standard Raptor is being sold full-priced as an enterprise-class drive, the Raptor X is considered an enthusiast drive and dropped in price considerably when WD released their new Velociraptor. Since I don’t need that kind of performance, I chose to save a couple hundred dollars and went with the Raptor X.
Optical Drive – Plextor PX-810SA. I didn’t really know what I should get for an optical drive. My two primary options were to select something that can dump GameCube and Wii disk data or something that supported every format under the sun. I went with the latter, making my final decision based on c|net‘s highest rated recent DVD burner.
Case – Antec Performance One P182. Based on the results of TomsHardware.com‘s System Builder Marathon, I was looking at Silverstone‘s Temjin TJ09BW. The more I looked, the more I realized it was entirely too much case for my needs. So, I started looking at Antec‘s Sonata line. Aside from sound dampening, they seemed pretty plain. Besides, my roommate has one and he’s not very impressed by it. But, while browsing other options from Antec, I saw the P182. After watching the demo video, I wanted that case. It has the same quieting features as the Sonata line, isolated air channel for the power supply and lower hard drive cage, cable management behind the motherboard, a front panel that swings out flush with the side panel, easily accessible air filters and room for 5 120mm cooling fans and anything else I’m likely to want in my computer, all in a sleek gun metal finish. It would be nice to try one out before buying, but it should be worth the cost of return shipping and the 15% restocking fee to see if this case is as good as it looks.
Power Supply – Cooler Master Real Power Pro 750W. I set the bar at 750 W for my power supply, in case I add triple SLI and a bevy of hard drives when I inevitably upgrade my processore to a Core 2 Extreme. My primary choices came down to Antec‘s 850 W Quattro and Cooler Master‘s 750 W Real Power Pro. Even though I picked an Antec case, I went with the Cooler Master power supply because I don’t think I’ll need the extra 100 W and the price difference was significant. It would have been nice to go with a modular power supply, though
Other – Sabrent CRW-UINB. I decided to add a media card reader, foregoing a floppy drive. Sabrent‘s reader touts support for 65 formats, although most of them are different iterations of a handful of media types. Still, it was cheap and entirely internal, running off of a USB 2.0 pin connector on the motherboard. I should have kept shopping, though. Some time after I placed my order, I found a media card reader with an integrated BlueTooth adapter, which my computer currently lacks.
After I selected all of my parts, it was time to find the best deal. I used Google Shopping, PriceWatch.com and PriceGrabber.com to help me locate the best prices. Newegg.com, ZipZoomFly.com and Mwave.com consistently had the best overall prices, all took PayPal and they all had reasonable return policies. After selecting those three retailers, I loaded up my shopping carts with all of the parts I wanted that they each carried. I then entered my zip code to calculate tax and shipping and proceeded to dump the highest-priced iterations of each item from my carts, keeping an eye on how much shipping charges changed. Eventually, the only thing I had to get from Mwave.com was the case, since ZipZoomFly.com didn’t have it and Newegg.com wanted $40 more for it. Mwave.com also had the best price on the media card reader, so I got that from them. I got the RAM, video card and hard drive from ZipZoomFly.com and the rest from Newegg.com. I used PayPal Express Checkout to minimize the amount of information I had to provide and to ensure proper handling of my transactions (no temporary double charges to my card). Even after shipping, I came in well under my allocated budget, so I may upgrade my monitor or add extra hard drives sooner than I had planned.
The last time I built a computer I had a little trouble with my orders. I have done everything I could think of to minimize complications this time around. The selections I made were planned well in advance and the stores I chose all had high ratings and clear, fair policies. I hope that these methods work out so that I can use them again the next time I have to upgrade. Or, the next time I help a friend upgrade. Fare thee well!

I decided some time ago that I would like to build a new computer. I’m still using the computer I built about 7 years ago and its age is definitely showing. The main reasons I didn’t upgrade earlier were unstable employment and education expenses. Now that I have a steady job and a little money saved up, I’ve decided that the time is right to upgrade to a new computer, even if it means postponing my return to college.
My current machine is an Athlon XP 2200 based mid-tower with the MSI KT3 Ultra motherboard, 1 GB RAM, GeForce FX 5200 graphics card, SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS audio, 220 GB hard drive space across 3 drives, a Vantec 520 W power supply and an early hp DVD+RW drive in a case with 4 front intake fans, 2 rear exhaust fans, one side intake fan and a blowhole exhaust fan, in addition to the CPU cooler, GPU cooler and 2 power supply fans. In other words, it was a powerful machine 7 years ago, but now it’s old and slow. After putting it together and using it for awhile, though, I learned a great deal about selecting components for a custom built PC, because I did it all wrong.
My computer originally had a generic power supply, an ASUS motherboard, a GeForce4 Ti video card and a SoundBlaster Audigy Platinum EX soundcard. But, that cheap power supply burnt out and took the other 3 components with it, so they had to be replaced. Another problem with my PC, as you may have guessed, is that it’s much too loud. With all those fans, it runs nice and cool. But, I can’t even enjoy music through my fancy soundcard with the fans all turned down to low. When they are at full power, it’s hard to be in the same room as my computer. I also didn’t leave room for expansion. My motherboard may have "Ultra" in the name, but it was a lower-end board when I got it, lacking SATA, RAID, or even AGP 8x (it’s limited to AGP 4x). Its FSB and memory clock are both limited to 333, which means that the CPU and RAM I selected are about as fast as the board can handle. I could put in a faster processor, but the board limits me to the Athlon XP 2600, which would get me less than 15% increase in CPU performance. I could add more RAM, but that would lower the clock speed at which the memory would run. So, my only real upgrade options are to replace the RAM with larger DIMMs or to add or replace hard drives, neither of which seem worthwhile so long as I have the same processor and graphics card. When I built it, I wanted some components to be top-of-the-line, but I cut corners with parts I deemed less important. That left me with no room to upgrade a machine for which I’d already paid too much. So, I’m taking a very different approach with my new computer.
The most drastic change in how I’m selecting parts for my new machine is the focus on infrastructure. I want to have a solid base upon which I may build a good machine now and easily upgrade to a much more powerful machine later. With that in mind, I want to get a motherboard that supports the latest technologies, even if it means paying an outrageous premium. I also want a case that is built for silence and will allow me to easily upgrade to a liquid cooling system. My current power supply is nice, but it’s pretty old and I want to make sure I have enough power for any future components I may add, so I decided on a minimum of 700 W for the new one. Those 3 components are the most difficult to replace, so I want them to last as long as possible. For the rest of the components, price is more important than performance. I can get mid-range components now and wait until the price on the high-end components drops substantially, then upgrade to the best components my board can handle. This will mean that the cost through the life of the computer will be less than buying all high-end parts now.
I’ve already picked out and ordered the parts I want. I’ll go over each component and my reasons for selecting them in greater detail at a later time. Until then, I do have up a list of the parts I selected. It will be up until I actually build the computer. Fare thee well!
I came home last night to discover that the power was out at my unit. Everyone else had power, just not me. The Ryans were out at the time, so I called Ryan M to see what he knew about the situation. He informed me that he had checked with the power company and they told him his payments were current and there seemed to be no technical problems on their end. He also told me that he couldn’t get any help from the 24-hour emergency service number because no one could make it out at night and the man to whom he spoke refused to tell him where the main power feed was because of "liability concerns." I looked for the main power feed myself, but I couldn’t find it. So, I decided to play Pokémon until I felt like going to bed.
During that time, Ryan B got back and ranted a bit about the power situation, as he had been the one who called the association about it. So, I had him call them back and give me a chance to talk to the operator. The conversation went nowhere, as the man on the other end kept telling me that safety concerns prevented anyone from taking a look at the panel at night. I asked him for the number of whomever gave him that information and he stubbornly refused to divulge the desired digits. I made the demand several times, but he wouldn’t back down. I understand that he felt it was his job to be the only contact between us residents and the association, but I felt he was being unreasonable to only relay the association’s intentions of inaction while keeping me from doing anything to help myself. I kept pushing the matter and demanding that, if he wasn’t going to help me, he at least forward me on to someone who could, which only caused him to get frustrated. Finally, he let it slip that I could check the panel near the meter to find a likely cause for the outage. Realizing his mistake, he then warned me that the breaker probably wouldn’t be a simple switch and it would probably need to be replaced, anyway. I told him I would check it out, regardless, and he gave me a final warning that he was not responsible for my safety. I bid him goodnight and ended the conversation.
Ryan B had already checked by the meter, but he hadn’t had good lighting at the time. Before going out to check again, I had him turn off all of our indoor breakers except the kitchen, so there wouldn’t be a sudden spike when we restored power, then we took my flashlight and went outside to the meter. He showed me what he believed to be the panel, but he couldn’t get it open very far. I checked the hinges and figured out how the thing was supposed to open, used my trusty Leatherman to open it up and took a look inside. At the top there was a switch-style breaker in the "OFF" position and below that there were two more similar switches in the "ON" position. I forced the top breaker into the "ON" position and Ryan B went inside to see if the kitchen had power. It did, so we closed the panel and turned on all our breakers.
I’m guessing we tripped the main breaker when Ryan B was doing his laundry and the furnace came on. When the power went out, the washing machine was filling up with hot water which, given the volume required by the washer, could run our tankless water heater near full load, which is 120 amps. The furnace, when it runs, probably always runs near full load – because of its poor design – which is 60 amps. 180 amps sustained would certainly be enough to trip the 150-amp breaker at the meter. It looks like we may have to be careful about when we run the hot water to avoid this sort of thing in the future. We also need to call the association to let them know we are extremely displeased with their response to the situation. They may claim they’re not responsible for my safety should I choose to check the electrical panel myself, but I’m sure my roommates would have no trouble suing the ever-loving green out them had I electrocuted myself because they refused to send a professional to respond to our call in the first place.

I’ve actually been sitting on this review since December, which is a shame since it is now a little late to help anyone decide whether or not to see this movie. Nevertheless, I would like to divulge my opinion of the film. So, here is my review of I Am Legend, albeit a couple months late.
I Am Legend opens with the revelation of a major medical breakthrough presented in a TV interview with a medical researcher. A cure for cancer has been discovered with a 100% success rate. Later, the consequences of this radical retrovirus cure is revealed as New York City, abandoned for three years, is presented in decay and desolation. Only one man, Robert Neville, remains in the city, along with his dog Sam.
The beginning of the film is spent following Robert through his daily routine in the abandoned city. We see how he gathers necessities, preserves his sanity and keeps himself fortified from harm during the terrifying nights. Later, we see how he conducts his research, his primary reason for remaining in the city. This opening period does an excellent job of portraying how a lone man may cope with extreme isolation in a familiar environment turned hostile.
The events leading up to the cataclysm that left the world in its current state are presented as flashbacks while Robert sleeps. These dream sequences reveal Robert’s motivation and provide much-needed insight into the state of the world, as well as Robert’s own connection to the event. They also, much like real dreams, seem to end just when things are getting interesting. This allows the audience to be left hanging as the plot is slowly revealed. It works well for presenting the back story.
The film gets interesting when Sam chases a deer into a dark building and Robert must go in after her. This is when we learn what makes the dark so foreboding. Soon afterwards, we also learn that the creatures that impose this terror, called darkstalkers, though uncontrollably violent, have not lost as much of their humanity as Robert had believed. This results in a fierce battle between Robert and a large group of darkstalkers, led by a cunning alpha male.
Unfortunately, the event that should have heralded an even greater level of intrigue instead marked the downhill plummet of the storyline. This event leads to the movie’s otherwise thrilling climax, where the writers decided rather heavy-handedly to reveal to the audience that the movie is not about the indomitable human spirit, but is actually a message about faith. Unfortunately, it is also revealed that Robert didn’t really know what he was doing, beyond his search for a cure to the darkstalker condition.
An intriguing opening draws you in to enjoy this movie’s excellent suspense and intrigue. Then, a flimsy ending leaves you wondering why you bothered watching the movie in the first place. I hope that the DVD has a worthwhile alternate ending because, otherwise, this movie isn’t quite worth seeing.
This was originally part of my review of Beowulf, but it turned into a bit of a rant and took up too much space. So, I decided to do a separate entry on the merits and drawbacks of performance capture techniques in filmmaking, particularly films created entirely with performance capture.
The single aspect of Beowulf that is most likely to turn off viewers is the use of performance capture with computer-generated characters. This technique creates a more photorealistic look than more cartoonish films, such as Shrek and The Incredibles, but it is far from being able to replace live actors. This begs the question, “Why bother?” Before I provide my opinion of why the technology is viable, I would first like to address some of the arguments on either side of the issue.
Advocates of the technology seem to believe that performance capture is the future of filmmaking. I have read that Robert Zimeckis holds this view. The idea is to flawlessly recreate human form and mannerisms within the computer and manipulate them in any way imaginable. It is a novel concept that certainly has a wide range of uses, but it will never be able to replace traditional acting. No matter how good the technology gets, audiences still want to see real people in real settings most of the time, even if they couldn’t really tell the difference visually. There would be some novelty early on, but most audiences would want to return to true, live performances. Which leads to the primary opposition to performance capture.
I have read in several critical dissertations, particularly of Beowulf, that performance capture technology yields soulless puppets that cannot possibly replace real live actors. This really bothers me. The new technology should not be viewed as something that is intended to replace the original. Beowulf is an animated film…animated…it is not real…the characters are not real…the sets are not real. Complaining that the performance is not real enough just misses the point of animation, which is to provide a symbolic representation of reality, even if it is done so in a way that is meant to look fairly realistic. It should not be viewed as something that tries to replace traditional acting, nor should it be used as a replacement for traditional acting. It is a new way to get actors into animation, not a way to remove actors from film.
I see two primary uses for an animation technique that strives for photorealism. First, it allows for an animated feature with a more serious tone. For animators who want their film to be taken seriously, it allows for animation that doesn’t appear cartoonish but is clearly still animation. The other use, though lacking the artistic integrity of the first, helps overcome current technical issues with modern films. Performance capture films can be used as a stop-gap until special effects can be rendered that are indistinguishable from the real elements in a shot. As long as real actors are going to stand out in a CG special-effects scene, then it makes some modicum of sense, particularly in a movie that makes heavy use of special effects, to have CG actors, as well. This particularly holds true for movies, such as The Matrix: Revolutions, where the actors are replaced with digital stand-ins for some of the scenes. This sudden switch to a CG actor can be distracting, but having the actor be digital from the beginning removes the need for such a transition.
Performance capture is a good technology that still has a lot of progress to be made. Aside from allowing for more serious animated movies, it has allowed for better integration of CG characters, such as Gollum, into live-action movies. Given time, this technique should mature and find its rightful niche as an acceptable practice in the modern filmmaker’s repertoire.
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