Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book Review: Cell, by Stephen King (Plus a Rant About Braaaaiiiins)

Stephen King has done all the typical monsters: vampires, werewolves, aliens, robots, clowns. Until now, though, he hasn't done zombies. Cell is Stephen King doing zombies. Nothing more, nothing less.

He does, of course, add some twists to the genre, which I won't give away here. The twists are done in context though; it's obvious that King has seen a lot of zombie movies, and any deviation from the traditional zombie is done intentionally. His nods to zombie movies are subtle but effective (e.g. waiting for a tidy explanation of how the zombie outbreak began is missing the point). One twist sorta makes the idea of zombies less scary (for those who have read it, I'm talking about their cyclical nature), but it does keep the story moving in a believable way. The plot unfolds rapidly, almost feeling like a movie screenplay in both its pace and its visual style of writing. The bottom line is that Cell is an enjoyable read and hard to put down; that's the highest praise I can give a book like this.

[TANGENT] There is one thing I have to complain about. At one point, a character in Cell uses the "humans use only 10% of their brains" myth to explain something. Where the hell did this come from, and why do people continue to believe it? Does anyone really think nature (or hell, God, if you prefer) would create this freakish creature with a head containing a tiny functional brain surrounded by 9 times more useless brain-coloured goo? That makes no sense. Perhaps people really mean "humans only use 10% of their brain at one time". Closer to the truth, maybe, but the negative connotation is misleading. It's like saying "computers use only 10% of their programs" because you never have every program running at the same time. If we "used 100% of our brains" in this context, we'd be trying to do everything a human can possibly do at one time (probably ending up paralyzed, babbling incoherently, and going insane trying to deal with all memories from our lives simultaneously rushing into consciousness); or more likely, we'd have some kind of seizure and die instantly, not unlike the computer frying itself if you managed to run every program at once.

I think the main explanation for the perpetuation of this myth is that people want it to be true. They want it to mean that we are using only 10% of our potentials, and there's so much room for us to improve. That 90% holds the solution to all of life's problems; we can end war, discover the universe's secrets, and figure out the opposite sex, if only we try hard enough and dip into that 90% potential. Perhaps, though, it'd be more fruitful to realize that we're already running at 100% (if not more) of what our brains are meant for, and if such solutions to life's problems exist, they are already within our reach.

Oh, and another reason we want this to be true? Because if a zombie attacks and eats a chunk of your brain, chances are it'll be from that useless 90% and you'll walk away unharmed. [/TANGENT]

Monday, July 23, 2007

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I've been away for a little while because:

A) I moved. Packing and moving and unpacking take a very long time. And then, when you have a house, you have to do stuff to make it better. This leaves little free time. Maybe that's why old people rarely do anything fun; they're stuck at home on evenings and weekends redoing the kitchen and hammering stuff into fences.

B) Harry Potter. I'm avoiding the internet because it's likely that some asshole will post a major spoiler for the last book, in some place that I'll see it even if I avoid everything to do with Harry Potter. I'm hoping that Rowling learned her lesson from the 6th book and made each plot twist hard to summarize in one line, e.g. "X kills Y on pg. Z". It should be more like "X is actually Y's great grandfather because Y used time travel magic to have a one night stand with X's ancestor, but that made X uncomfortable given he was boinking Y's sister, so he magically goes back in time to magically sterilize Y, which creates a paradox that leaves X neither alive nor dead but sorta squishy and pale, and very uncomfortable." This would be very hard to communicate in any form that could be read inadvertently.

Anyway, I'll be back when the house is done and the book is read.

Friday, July 13, 2007

From Popper to Potter

I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night. It was pretty good.

I think it's very hard to translate the Harry Potter books to film. Part of what makes the books so interesting is the extreme detail in them. They have a cast of hundreds of characters, each with their own little stories that continue throughout the series. The plot plays out in thousands of little details that set up later events. This works in a book that takes a dozen hours to read, but is hard to squish into a 3-hour movie. Sometimes it results in a feeling of "here is the scene from the book when X happens, here is the scene from the book where Y happens" rather than really being a cohesive movie.

Still, it was about as well-executed as it could be. I found the acting and direction to be the best so far. It's far less cheesy than previous movies, mostly because of the dark subject matter. So it's a great movie, for what it is.

I also finished part of my comprehensive exams, finally. It's good to be done. I better pass.

There may not be any posts here for a few days. I'm working on an in-depth post about some heavy stuff. It's an exposé about Dani and her crew. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Peanuts and Poppers

I'm supposed to be studying for my comprehensive exams, which are tomorrow. However, I am posting a post here instead. I need to take a break anyway, because I have some Reese's Pieces and Peanut M&Ms, and they were in my pocket for a long time so they're warm and squishy now, so I need to wait for them to be cooled down by the sweet, sweet air conditioning before I can eat them, and I can't study without eating chocolatey snacks contemporaneously *.

Here is a list of facts:

  • According to my reading, many independent sources (Popper, Khaneman, Tversky, Peanuts' Linus) contend that the "most random" string of five letters is: 01101. From now on, when someone asks what my favourite number is, I will say "01101". Then it will no longer be random, because it has special meaning, being Phronk's favourite number. So if someone is like, "pick a random number from 01000 to 01200!", and I say "01101", they will say "that is not random! That is simply your favourite number!" TAKE THAT KARL POPPER! PWNED!!!

  • I've decided that all of my blog posts will contain at least one sentence that is all in capital letters, ends with an exclamation point (or interrobang (‽)), and is less deep and/or thought-provoking than it looks.

  • I was walking down the hall today, and heard a very loud radio. I wondered what someone would be doing blasting a loud radio in the middle of a public hallway. Then I looked, and saw that the radio sound was coming out of a man's mouth. His voice sounded just like it was coming out of a radio. I dunno what it was...maybe a hint of static, a weird hollow-type sound, or a booming too-happy DJ style of talking.

  • * Contemporaneously should not be a real word.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Autobots Wage Their Battle to Destroy the Evil Forces of the Deceptions

I saw Transformers last night. It was pretty good.

You know what I wonder, though? Did the Decepticons name themselves the Decepticons? It's always been my belief that people who gather in groups to do evil don't actually believe that they are evil. The Decepticons probably think that what they are doing is upstanding moral behaviour. After all, they're just using Earth's resources to improve their own existence, which would just happen to wipe out the human race as a side effect. Supposedly good humans have done worse.

So why would they put the word "deception" in their name? For one thing, they're not really being deceptive. Their goals of taking over the universe are pretty clear. If anything, it's the Autobots, who developed the ability to sneak around by disguising themselves as everyday technology, who are being deceptive.

I suppose a truly deceptive group wouldn't put deception in their name, though. It's more deceptive to hide their deception by giving themselves a a vague, meaningless name. Good job, Autobots. Well played.

So I thought maybe the Autobots named the Decepticons, in order to draw attention away from their own deceptive ways. Sorta like how George W. Bush calls Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the Axis of Evil (who probably wouldn't book a room under 'Axis of Evil' at their annual meeting...if they were actually an 'axis' who worked together, which they are not). However, according to Wikipedia, the Decepticons did name themselves.

So there goes that theory. My new theory is that the Decepticons originally wanted to be deceptive, but also wanted to advertise the fact that they were being deceptive. The deception was part of the the fun - sorta like a special effects company, or a stage magician. Yeah, that's gotta be it. The Decepticons were originally a traveling troupe of entertainers, pulling (robotic) rabbits out of hats and doing tricks with (robotic) cards. Until the Autobots upstaged them with their sneaky ability to transform into vehicles, igniting civil war.


P.S. Here is Soundwave's Myspace page. WARNING: It's a Myspace page.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Sometimes it bugs me when people use acronyms. They're like "My IBS was totally acting up, and you know how I have OCD, so I went to HSBC's ATM with my PIN to pay for HRGC on my GI, but I got the BSOD and the SOBs were like, sry no ATM ATM so GTFO, and then I went to the Y."

And I'm like, WTF are you talking about?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Rock Band

Just watch this. You'll either feel sorry for the poor losers, or be extremely jealous. I pick the latter.

I'm gonna go play Guitar Hero purely as practice for Rock Band. Then, in a few months when this comes out, party at my place. BYOB because it'll probably cost $200 that I don't have.

Constructive Criticism

If I ever have to mark a paper or review an article that's by a female author, and about gender differences, I think a funny thing to do would be to write on it, "pretty good...for a girl" .