Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the building of computers.

Well, I built my new computer, and it now hums, loudly and proudly, at the center of my living room "entertainment desk". Without even overclocking it, it runs Oblivion "silky smooth" with all of the settings on max at 1920x1080.

Building it was not without some hard lessons, and so here is what I learned about buying parts and building a machine:

  • Avoid "PowerUp" cases (and other "bargain" cases). Many of them arrive with dead PSUs (mine, fortunately, works). Beyond that, they are very flimsy and malleable, and they have a ridiculous "door" assembly around the peripheral bracket screws (which I removed and replaced with tape). As well, the case was so thin that my GPU would not fit. I actually had to use pliers to "chew off" a couple cm from the metal bracket so that I could plug it in.
  • Again, be careful about the case/power supply you buy. This appears to be the most deception-ridden market in the PC parts world. I, unfortunately, was only checking for wattage and price. You also need to check for: (a) what fans does it include? Mine did not have any; fortunately, I got some free from a privately owned computer store. (b) what are people's experience with the PSU? Unfortunately, included PSUs do not generally have a good reputation. It's a gamble, especially if the case seller does not list any PSU specifications besides the wattage, or list the PSU's manufacturer.
  • Don't be fooled by the "stars" ratings on online parts stores. They are misleading. It's much better to read the comments left by people who purchased the part. For cases, this is where you learn about dead PSUs. For motherboards, this is where you read about overclocking ability, stability, and features. A "4-star" item might have dozens of reviews trashing its quality, and the positive reviews might be from people with very simple needs, low standards, or who don't know what they're talking about. Read the comments.
  • On CPU fans. Many of the bigger ones have the fan pointing to the side rather than out the top. I assumed that I was supposed to point the fan out the back of the case, and this was the way I originally installed it. The problem is that the CPU fan wasn't nearly as strong as a dedicated exhaust fan, and was never meant to replace a true exhaust fan. Sure enough, this picture of the Tom's Hardware $500 PC showed me the error of my ways. So I removed and resinstalled my CPU fan pointing toward the front of the computer. Keep in mind, no part is harder to install than the fan. Even my PC tech book (by Mike Meyers) says so, and this experience proved it. I was afraid of breaking my motherboard.

On the making of sandwiches.

Ever since college, one thing I have been known for is my sandwiches. My love of efficiency, thoroughness, depth and breath is expressed in this food, whose singular purpose is the elimination of the need for "sides" or "second courses". Un unh.

Living in Belgium for a couple of years, with institutional meals in the local idiom, I survived by making towering dagwood sandwiches that were the rough analogues of their American counterparts.

Now living on my own for almost a year, the sandwich continues to be my bulwark against both starvation and learning how to cook. But recently I have made a few discoveries that have made my dagwoods more enjoyable, more efficient, less messy, and something I have an urge to share. Here are a few of those discoveries:
  • Always toast the bread. My toaster has a "Kellog's Pop Tarts" setting (a little bit of brand-tying there) which cooks it lighter than breakfast toast, but perfect for a sandwich.
  • Eggs make everything better. For years, I always cooked (or over-cooked) an egg over easy for my sandwiches. Letting the yoke break and allowing the insides run all over the sandwich is a delight--use a piece of bread to get any that drips on the plate.
  • However, lately I haven't hungered for drippy sandwiches. So I whisk the egg before cooking it into a yellow patty. Mini-omelet. Of course, having run out of bread on a few occasions, I've had no qualms about using a couple more eggs and turning the whole sandwich into an omelet.
  • Onions are both delicious and ridiculously good for you. But raw, they're too crispy, and grilled, they're too slippery. But if you take the whole slice, dice it up, and whisk it with the egg before cooking, you have the perfect way to get onion into a sandwich.
  • Cherry (or "grape") tomatoes are often less expensive per ounce, have great flavor, and do a great job of remaining anchored to a layer of mayonnaise. They're not as hard to slice as you think--in fact, there is less water spillage than with larger tomatoes.
  • Getting the meat and cheese just right has always been tricky for me, but I discovered a little trick. I lay a couple slices of meat on a folded paper towel, and lay a bigger-than-1" cube of cheese on the meat. I microwave the assembly for 1 minute. The paper towel absorbs the juices from the meat, causing the edges to dry up and curl into a little shallow bowl. The cheese block melts evenly into the "bowl", allowing you to use lots of cheese, and, again, have it stay inside of the sandwich as you eat.
  • A note on cheese. When I had more expendable income I was getting everything from Trader Joes. But be warned: in my experience, organic cheese molds extremely quickly. Now I get regular "poisoned" cheese from Safeway, in big cheap blocks; I cut them into smaller blocks and seal each one in a zip-lock baggie, which I suck the air out of before closing. Some people might think that's gross. Hey, I'll bet my cheese has less schmutz on it than your cheese, even after a couple of weeks in the fridge.
  • Living on a tighter budget has also driven me back to iceberg lettuce. But a single head can make many sandwiches, and there is no excuse for throwing away a bulb that doesn't have any green left on it. Rather than haphazardly tear off lettuce, I pinch off the leaves individually at the stalk. With a new head of lettuce, a single leaf is plenty for two sandwiches (I cram it all into one). Just today, I finished off a head using 3-4 little bitty leaves, each with plenty of green. The stalk was the only thing I chucked.
So there you have it. I'm proud of my sandwiches. Want one?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Trying to build a $500 gaming computer

EDIT: I bought it. I went with a $10 cheaper processor (the E2180) and TigerDirect had a "Google Checkout" with a $10 discount promotion, so my final bill (after rebates) is $452.68

Last April, Tom's Hardware published an article about building a $500 gaming computer, and I've been stuck on the concept since (see: the summer plans blog below). My budget lately has been especially tight, but I figured with the help of selling my XBox 360 and some frugality, I could put this whole thing together.

The whole thing centers around an Nvidia 8800 GT 512MB graphics card, a cheap, overclocked Intel Dual Core (not Core 2 Duo), and a P35 chipset motherboard.

Keeping things under $500 is not easy, even a few months after the original article was written--they list components at cheaper prices than I can find them at now. I've been using NewEgg; a friend of a friend suggested that I try Let's see how cheap I can build my system using both:

Tom's Sub-$500 PC (circa April)

  • Asus GeForce 8800 GT 512MB - $160 (But it has a $30 mail-in rebate, making it $130)
  • Lite-On 20X DVD Burner - $22
  • Rosewill ATX case + 450W PSU combo - $60 (this is about the same price TH paid for theirs, but theirs had a much weaker power supply. Rosewell seems to have a good reputation based on the buyer reviews.)
  • Gigabyte GA-P35-S3G ATX Intel Motherboard - $75 (this isn't the "Ultra-durable" variety that TH recommends, but as I am not taking my computer off-roading any time soon, I think I can save $15 here)
  • Intel Pentium E2180 2.0GHz - $70 (Everything I read says this is a great place to skimp if you don't mind overclocking)
  • Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro - $27 (I don't know what makes a good heatsink/fan combo, but this one gets recommended everywhere and has a 5-star rating after 1, 797 reviews).
  • Western Digital Caviar 160GB 7200RPM hard drive - $45
  • Wintec 2x 1GB PC2 6400 RAM - $40 (again, a case where most were $40, so I went with the one that had the most positive reviews).
  • Total: $498.92 + $14.31 shipping - $30 mail-in rebate = $483.23
Now, let's see if TigerDirect can do any better:
  • XFX GeForce 880 GT - $160 (also with $30 rebate)
  • Lite-On 20X DVD Burner - $25
  • Power Up Black ATX Mid-Tower Case with 450-Watt Power Supply - $40 (Big savings here; TD seems to have completely different brands of cases than NewEgg, most of them cheaper. Had a 4-star rating from 13 users--not a lot, but Tiger Direct doesn't get the volume that NewEgg does--this is their most popular case).
  • Gigabyte GA-P35-S3G ATX Intel Motherboard - $75 (From NewEgg. Unfortunately, TD has a terrible selection of P35 motherboards. Their cheapest was $90, and all of them received lousy reviews as regards its overclocking ability.
  • Intel Pentium E2200 2.2GHz - $70 (There seemed to be a $10 discount for several processors, so I treated myself to a $10 upgrade).
  • Masscool 8W553 Intel Socket 775 CPU Fan - $20 (I don't know much about this brand, but it was popular and well-regarded. TD didn't have Tom's or NewEgg's recommended models).
  • Western Digital Caviar 160GB 7200RPM hard drive - $50 (Yup, same drive, $5 more).
  • Corsair Dual Channel TWINX 2048MB PC6400 - $57 ($32 after $25 mail-in rebate).
  • Total: $421.93 + $82.58 (NewEgg mobo) + $26.77 shipping - $55 mail-in rebates = $476.28
OK, so the TigerDirect PC actually turned out to be a little cheaper. It has a slight better processor, and some not-so-great deals in other places. What happens if I buy the best parts from both venders?

NewEgg: Mobo, Graphics, Cooling, Harddrive, and DVD for $309.80 after shipping and rebates.

TigerDirect: RAM, Case+PSU, and CPU for $162.88 after shipping and rebates.

New total: $472.68 shipped.

Not bad, I'd say. Leaves room for a keyboard and mouse. :)

Friday, June 06, 2008

A little application of the model

Just briefly. See if you can figure out why I would describe the following groups in these terms:

Democratic Party platform: Animal, Modernistic, Monistic

Republican Party platform: Tribal, Modernistic, Monotheist

Catholic Church: Classical, Postmodern, Monotheist

Taoism/Confucianism: Classical, Premodern, Monistic

Third Reich: Tribal, Modernistic, Monistic

Islamic terrorists: Tribal, Premodern, Monotheistic

Orthodox Church: Classical, Premodern, Monotheist

Louvain Faculty of Philosophy: Classical, Postmodern, Monist/Monotheist (varies)

Forms of humanity?

Here is some idle speculation. I was ruminating the other day about whether history, the rise and fall of cultures, and evolving ideology might be explainable in terms of forms and an array of spectra. Again, I know the dangers of spectrum thinking, but it has its place.

Thinking back on my philosophy and theology studies (and reflecting on my recent crash course on world religions), it seems that humanity is alternatively pulled in a number of different cultural/ideological directions--but a finite number. In fact, a relatively small number. I have no pretensions to the discovery of laws. But if I could play the armchair anthropologist for a moment, I might delineate these directions thusly:

Value Orientation:
Animal - Individual
Tribal - Group
Classical - Universal

Intellectual Orientation:
Premodern - Undifferentiated Inclusive
Modernism - Differentiated Exclusive
Postmodern - Differentiated Inclusive

Ultimate Orientation:
Mythos - Animistic
Monism - Mystical
Monotheism - Religious

I believe that this model may be somewhat adequate to describe cultures, movements, ideologies, religions--virtually any shared lebenswelt, no matter the size, purpose, duration--understanding that such delineations are more or less artificial in themselves.

A note on "modernity". I have a very specific understanding of the term. It includes the following features:
  • The elimination of teleology and analogy from the sphere of science, i.e., as sources of true knowledge that is binding across individuals.
  • The development and absolutization of a general method of acquiring knowledge based on observation and organization of data.
  • The cultural absorption of this epistemology and the dramatic response to it. Note that much of what is called "post-modernity" retains essentially modernistic epistemology; it is only the ambivalent disavowal of certainty within the same framework.
What I call "Postmodern" rejects modernity's rejections--it affirms the validity of teleology and analogy as sources of true knowledge, while at the same time retaining the contributions and insights of modernity.

Also, a note on the "Ultimate Orientation". I borrowed Ratzinger's differentiation of religions that can be found in his Truth and Tolerance, but I adapted it. Ratzinger claimed that, from mythical consciousness, a civilization may develop in three different directions: the monotheistic, the "mystical" (i.e. monist), or the rationalistic. I would suggest that the only difference between the rationalistic (read: atheist, irreligious, skeptical) and the mystical (monist) tendencies are whether the society has adapted an exclusive (modernist) or an inclusive (premodern/postmodern) epistemology.

My adaptation does involve an anachronism, since according to Ratzinger, post-mythical Rome was rationalist; the stories of the gods were considered "useful" rather than "true". Ancient Rome was already applying a sort of "Ockham's Razor" to the validity of the Odyssey and the Illiad. But I see no problem in suggesting that Descartes and his modernist heirs were preceded by skeptics who were their primordial archetypes.

I understand that this post is sketchy and disorganized. These notes are for my own recording.