Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas

I'm taking the next few days off line (other than to check e-mail). Enjoy your Christmas.

For a Christmas message, I have the lyrics of a relatively unknown song, but it's one of my absolute favorite ones. I've posted them over at Millennial Star.

Go check them out. They're a timely reminder of what we should be focused on this season: Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

So little choice...

Well, it's Christmas break and grades are in. So my wife and I decided to rent some movies.

Well, there are a few movies we want to see that aren't out on video yet, but we were surprised at how few movies there were that even vaguely interested us. It seems like, except for half a dozen movies, the last year in movie offerings were pretty lame.

Even the few movies we were interested in seeing, such as Pirates of the Carribean 2 or Superman Returns, more often than not were rather disappointing. All the good stuff is on TV, apparently (though even there, 95% of the offerings are worthless. Outside of Lost, Battlestar Galactica, House, Heroes and Mythbusters, there isn't much worth seeing, IMHO).

We rented My Super Ex-Girlfriend out of desperation and turned it off 1/2 hour or so in. We weren't offended by anything - it was just so darn boring we realized we didn't care about anyone or anything in the movie. It wasn't even worth making fun of, as with many other bad movies. This wasn't a bad movie, it was just banal.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Battlestar Galactica rundown, now that we're in hiatus....

Point 1: We seem to be back on track, at least for now. This episode was rather exciting, and the cliffhanger was gripping.

Point 2: The Apollo/Starbuck affair is annoying, pointless, and adds nothing. I could really care less. It seems forced and adolescent to boot.

Point 3: To quote my wife "I stopped caring about the Cylons four or five episodes ago. They aren't interesting anymore. They obviously have no plan."

Summary: Basically, when the creators focus on the premise of the show: Humanity on the run from a vastly superior force, with all the drama inherent in that situation, the show works. When they instead focus on adults acting like Jr. High kids and villains who act like the kids in the cool clique, it fails. Unfortunately, the creators seem like they want to focus more on the latter than the former.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Writing advice

Back in October, the Daily Texan (the student newspaper here at UT-Austin) for some bizarre reason, published a brief essay by me that gave some writing advice to struggling students. Apparently, this essay became a big hit in the Physics department here at UT. I have no idea why. Anyway, it's available online. If you want to see my column, here it is.

[Please note - the student editors made a few changes that still puzzle me. They managed to render one sentence meaningless, though I'm sure they meant well. Still, the essay is 95% what I sent to them]

Saturday, December 09, 2006

And now, for something completely different....

Over at the forums (yes, I go to the gym six days a week and lift weights 3 - 4 of those days, depending on the cycle at the time), I posted some reviews of common ingredients in nutritional supplements aimed at helping people sleep. Since I don't sleep very well (and never have), I've tried nearly all of them at one time or another. I figured I could share my experiences here as well, so that not just bodybuilders can benefit from my wisdom/foolishness.

I actually sleep a lot better since trying one supplement. But read on and find out (this is slightly edited from the original post here):

For me (focusing on ingredients, rather than specific brands here), this is what works and what doesn't:

Doesn't help me sleep any better, but it does give me more vivid dreams. Extremely vivid dreams, actually. When I was using this, I often found it took an hour or two after waking up before I could figure out that my dreams last night never really happened. However, that is at a 2 - 3 mg dose. At a 1 mg dose I don't notice much difference. The only reason I still take it is because it's part of Alacer's CMA (the name was recently changed to "Emergen-C Sleep Aid", probably for branding reasons and likely because the name CMA was too close to ZMA) formulation, and I otherwise love Alacer's products.

Awful stuff. I wake up groggy, unable to think. Clouds my brain like you wouldn't believe. I don't drink, but if I had to hazard a guess, when I take even small doses of this stuff, I figure this is what a major hangover would feel like.

Kava Kava:
Makes me unable to sleep, since it gives me a killer headache.

Decent. I sleep *a little* better. Whereas I usually wake up 10 times a night, with this I might only wake up 7 or 8 times a night. Not much, but I'll take what I can get. I haven't noticed any mood-enhancing or appetite suppressing effects, despite claims on the labels of several products.

The best stuff - in powder form. In pill form, this does nothing for me. In powder form, a 6-7 gram dose does wonders. (It's also sometimes billed as a Growth Hormone enhancer - but I have noticed no Growth Hormone enhancing or fat loss effects).

The one drawback to GABA is the side effect of shortness of breath and tingling of the skin. When I first tried this in powder form, it freaked me out - I was sure I was going to faint. Now that I expect it, it has actually become a signal for the best time for me to be in bed, trying to fall asleep. When the shortness of breath kicks in, if I stay up too much longer, I won't fall asleep as easily.

A lot of the other herbal supplements (Passionflower, Hops, Chamomile, etc.) have been useless for me.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Definitely not Conan.....

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane
by: Robert E. Howard

I'm not a Conan fan. Yes - I'm a total comic book/sci-fi/fantasy geek. But Conan annoys me - the hyper-masculinity, the lack of character development, the adolescence of the barbarian worship. Yet - yet, Robert E. Howard does have one thing many other better writers lack: Energy. His tales sparkle with life, and his prose - while sometimes clunky and cliched - pulsates and moves, twists and turns and refuses to stay put.

Because of that, I figured I would give this book a try. It features one of Howard's lesser known heroes: a 16th century Puritan with an unquenchable wanderlust and an unforgiving desire for vengeance. And I was well rewarded. Solomon Kane is a true original character, the best Howard created.

The science fiction writer Orson Scott Card once wrote that the best stories were written when the author tries to reconcile two seemingly incongruous elements. And that is exactly what Robert E. Howard has done. He has taken the archetypal primitive barbarian that make up most of his tales (such as Kull, Conan, Bran Mak Morn) and placed him in a 16th century setting with an Old World Puritan sensibility. And the combination is powerful: Solomon Kane is a character that deserves a much wider audience. It's too bad most readers will see "by the creator of Conan" and walk on by like I nearly did.

[One note: even Howard's usual racism and ethnocentrism find themselves undercut at every turn. While definitely products of the first half of the 20th century, nearly every tale that seems somewhat racist at its front deconstructs its own cultural assumptions by the end, often poking fun at any ideas of racial superiority. For example, one tale hinges on the idea that all current races - white, black, whatever - are descendants of inferior slave races that once served the true master race: the brown skinned inhabitants of Atlantis. However, because of Howard's quite reactionary (even for the early 20th century) views on race, these tales may upset quite a few readers. Consider this my disclaimer.].

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Battlestar Galactica so far.

Well, the first few episodes of this season were great, thrilling, edge of the seat stuff. The political context was quite obvious, but I was so wrapped up in the epic nature of the first four hours of season three, that I barely noticed it.

However, it's been downhill since then. And the last episode had what I thought was a horrible moral: If you have issues with someone, you should beat up on each other until you realize just how much in love you really are.

Adama and Roslin have the only adult relationship on the show - it seems all the other major characters are stuck in Jr. High.

And what is the Cylon's plan? It seems rather clear right now they don't have one, other than to wander about the universe aimlessly and occasionally have sex with Dr. Baltar.

After listening to a few podcasts, the creators seem to think everything they have made this season is pure gold - and it really isn't. The character motivations would only make sense if the characters were all going through puberty, and the plots are rather tepid and rely way too much on wild, bizarre coincidences (esepcially the one about the escaped POW a few weeks ago).

The show earned my trust in the first two seasons, but it hasn't earned my trust yet this season. Here's hoping they pick it up soon.