Saturday, May 29, 2004

My new computer

Over the last six months, I have on two occasions hit problems due to the fact that my laptop computer has died. The first time the machine was a complete writeoff, and I had to simply buy a new one. The second time my new laptop had problems with its screen, and I was without it for several weeks while it was being repaired by Dell. For me, being without a computer is disastrous, as most of the things I do in my life require one to really function. I decided I needed a second computer to act as a backup in such situations. I had never built a computer out of a motherboard and other parts before, and I decided that it would be fun to try. And as it happens, a great many computer people have old computer parts lying around, and by asking nicely you can get most of the parts for a new computer for free.

In particular, I discovered that the best kinds of friends to have are hard core gamers - people who must have the latest and greatest computer at all times, and who are likely to throw out or give away computer hardware that seems perfectly good and reasonably up to date to the rest of us.

In the end, I managed to get people to give me almost an entire computer. As far as hardware is concerned, I only ended up paying for a new toolkit (which doesn't really count and which I needed anyway and which in any event only cost me £7.49), a set of screws, a new keyboard, and a new hard drive. (My mother gave me a keyboard when I was in Australia, but I left it out as I was carrying a bit too much luggage. I could undoubtedly have scrounged one off someone else, but when I saw that Maplin Electonics were selling brand new keyboards for £4.68, it simply didn't seem worth bothering). As far as hard drives are concerned, I discovered that second hand ones are harder to come by than most other components (as hard drives fail more often than virtually any other component, and there is thus more demand for them than for anything else) and also because hard drives are the part of the computer that is more subject to Moore's law than any other. Three or four year old hard drives only tend to be 5-10 gigabytes, and this isn't really enough for people with large music collections. (Mine is presently 14GB, which is medium sized but too much for a 10GB hard drive). On top of that, I might well do something like install a TV card and turn this computer into a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) at some point, in which case lots of hard drive space will be useful.

So although it might have been possible to scrounge a small second hand hard drive from someone (or I could have got an adaptor and used the 5Gb hard drive from my old laptop) I didn't think it was worth it. And once you have made the decision to buy a new hard drive, it turns out that 160GB costs less than double the cost of 40GB. So, the new computer has a 160GB hard drive. (I am told that the drive has a capacity of 164,686,520,320 bytes out of which I am presently using 3,781,287,936, so I have mere 160,905,232,384 bytes of space remaining).

Everything else was given to me by people who weren't using it. And I have been able to convert this

into this


In any event I now have a computer with an AMD Athlon 1GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, a 160GB 7200rpm hard drive, a 128Mb NVIDIA GeoForce4 Ti 4200 Graphics card (although this is being slowed down a little by the fact that the motherboard only has a 4X AGP slot, and the graphics card supports 8X), 10/100 Ethernet, on board sound, and a CD-ROM drive. There's no modem and no floppy, not because I would have had any trouble getting them but because I don't need them right now. (On the other hand if someone wants to give me a modem for free, I might take it, because it is useful to have one on board in case the DSL fails. That said, I do have one in the laptop, so to be in a bad way I would have to lose both the DSL and the laptop would have to have a separate problem, which isn't that likely).

And the computer is in an enormous case. Gamers like those I believe. I might install some front USB ports in one of the bays at some point, and an internal card reader might be nice, too.

Just using it now, to me the new box feels like a nice computer. The least state of the art thing about it is probably the CPU. I think the 1.0GHz Athlon precedes AMD's use of the "Athlon 1700+" notation, but I according to benchmarks a 1.0GHz Athlon is likely to run at about 2/3 of the speed of the 1.4GHz Pentium M in my laptop, and about 10% slower than a 1.3GHz Pentium 4. So the CPU is not state of the art, but is more than acceptable for most uses. And with 512MB of RAM, it isn't going to have to do much swapping. The one thing that is lacking is a DVD drive of any kind or a CD writer. I don't expect I am going to want to watch DVDs on this computer anyway (I have a standalone DVD player on the other side of the room) whereas a DVD player on a laptop is really useful for watching DVDs in places where one doesn't otherwise have a player) but it somehow feels incomplete. Perhaps I should have bought another of those $A25 DVD-ROM drives in Australia when I had the chance.

In actual fact I will add a DVD+/-RW drive when I have a little more money. At that point I will have a really nice computer, I think, and it really has cost not much at all.

Thursday, May 27, 2004


I have one of my long pieces about Hollywood over at Samizdata.
How to cheer oneself up in stressful times

Roast Duck with plum sauce. Mmmmmm. Duck.

I love ducks. They are such cute birds. I love the way they sort of glide across the water, and it looks so elegant, but you watch them go underneath you when you are standing in a bridge and you then see this circular paddling motion with their back legs. (Not that birds have front legs of course). Also, they are delicious.

I have a piece on Porto's victory in the European Champions League over at ubersportingpundit.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Wednesday Evening Song Lyrics

Thank you for hearing me
Thank you for loving me
Thank you for seeing me
And for not leaving me
Thank you for staying with me
Thanks for not hurting me
You are gentle with me
Thanks for silence with me

Thank you for holding me
And saying "I could be"
Thank you for saying "Baby"
Thank you for holding me

Thank you for helping me
Thank you, thank you for helping me

Thank you for breaking my heart
Thank you for tearing me apart
Now I've a strong, strong heart
Thank you for breaking my heart

Thank you for Hearing Me, from Sinead O'Connor's 1999 album Universal Mother.

(I've been listening to O'Connor's Best of album, and I am stunned by just how wonderful it is. O'Connor became famous briefly more than a decade back for her heartbreaking cover version of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U, but then didn't become the huge star that she should have become, possibly because of her overwhelming urge to repeatedly denounce the Pope, and other fairly bizarre behaviour. But she really can sing like an angel).

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The multicultural world

This evening I had a telephone interview for a job with a bulge bracket American bank. Although the job would likely be in London, the person interviewing me was in New York. And of course, in this globalised world, it is remarkable how different from you the people you encounter are. Whereas I was from New South Wales and studied at the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge, he was from Victoria and had studied at the University of Melbourne and MIT. I mean, what an extraordinary lack of cultural reference points we had. We wouldn't even use mean the same thing when we used the word "football"

Monday, May 24, 2004


Shrek 2 grossed $104.3 million (including estimates and projections - for several reasons I am not going into here I expect the final number to be higher) over the weekend in North America. That's the second largest three day gross of any film ever (after Spiderman two years ago, which managed $114.8). After two lacklustre and very expensive films (Van Helsing and Troy) over the last two weeks and after ordinary looking grosses for Shrek 2 on Wednesday and Thursday, it looked like the summer wasn't going so well and that perhaps the "DVDs are cannibalising theatrical grosses" theory was getting more evidence. However, this is enormous. If the ludicrous "Global warming causes the ice caps to melt, the Gulf Stream to stop, and an ice age to occur, and all by next Wednesday" film The Day After Tomorrow turns out to be the fun guilty pleasure I expect next weekend, and the third Harry Potter film the week after is as good as advance word says it is, it may be that in two weeks time everybody has forgotten the box office decline theory and Hollywood is talking about a record summer, and by a big margin. For what it is worth, it probably will be a record summer (at least in nominal terms) but I do not expect the margin to be all that great. Summers have a history of petering out when the Olympic Games are on - this was not such an issue in 2000 because the games were held late due to being in the southern hemisphere, but it was a very big issue in 1992 and 1996. I expect that this will happen this year too, although if the Greeks completely screw up, and the games are cancelled, that would be great for Hollywood. (Things may slow down in Europe due to the European football championship, too, so it may not be as big a box office summer internationally as in the US).

I have a longer article on all this in preparation for Samizdata.

Update: As I predicted (I rock), with the Sunday estimates the gross has been revised upwards to $106.7m. (What "estimates" means in this case is that we have Sunday numbers based on most theatres having reported in - including virtually all large theatres. The previous number included "projections" for Sunday - that is numbers based on what it was believed the Sunday gross would be given the Friday and Saturday grosses). Blimey this is a big hit, particularly given that it cost less than half as much (and perhaps a lot less than half as much) as either Van Helsing or Troy to make, and that family films make substantially more money on VHS and DVD than any other genre. We are talking something like a billion dollar profit on a hundred million dollar investment here.

Further Update: The final number is $108.0m, so we really aren't all that far behind Spiderman. That of course ended up with a total gross of just over $400m.

Sunday, May 23, 2004


Well, it seems that after immense effort, the holy grail of the blue rose has just about been perfected. What I want to know is whether Gallium Nitride was used anywhere in its development.

I have a piece on the ongoing cricket test between England and New Zealand, with reference to a peculiar incident involving a cricket ball and a pint of beer, over at ubersportingpundit.

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