Healing the Burns

October 15th, 2008

I'm disinclined to spend money on any electronic equipment with the brand "Sony" on it.

I bought my first CD player in 1989. It was a higher-end Sony model with all sorts of quaint bells and whistles, without which I never would have been able to endear myself to my dormmates by looping Snoop Dogg's "beeotch!" intro to Dr. Dre's "Let Me Ride" from The Chronic. At high volume. For a few hours. Really, I didn't mean to let it run that long. Something distracted me. Worse things have happened in university dorms.

But that Sony CD player sold me. It was cool. It was solid. It embodied the word "quality".

Naturally, years later, I bought a Sony TV, Sony camcorder, Sony receiver, and Sony DVD player.

The TV still pleases. It is a flat-screen CRT. We bought it from Amazon at a ridiculous discount at the beginning of the flat-panel revolution. It weighs 170 pounds. It will crush children in earthquakes. The TV and entertainment center are securely strapped to the wall.

The receiver is OK. It chafes at the confines of our entertainment center, requiring a fan to keep it from thermal shutdown, but it pumps sound to all the speakers and it's fairly easy to use.

The camcorder starting eating tapes after a year. The record button is starting to balk. I'm looking forward to something solid state and non-Sony.

The DVD player is a steaming pile of excrement. Its effect on my life reminds me of a choice excerpt from that Middle English bestseller, Piers Ploughman:

There was laughing and lowering and 'Let go the cup!'
They sat so till evensong singing now and then,
Till Glutton had gulped down a gallon and a gill.
His guts 'gan to grumble like two greedy sows;
He pissed a pot-full in a paternoster-while;
And blew with the bugle at his backbone's end,
That all hearing that horn held their nose after
And wished it were stopped up with a wisp of furze.

I would love to ram a bough of gorse up Sony's collective fundament.

From day one, the damn thing just refused to play any disc that wasn't clean-room spotless and fresh off the press. If I'd had any experience with DVD, I would've returned the useless piece of crap.

Vast libraries of digital media taunted us with our blind, anecephalic Sony player. Nothing from the local library would play. Renting a disc from Lackluster Video was an act of supreme optimism. Netflix discs ran at about an 25% failure rate.

Faults showed themselves in interesting ways, sometimes with a refusal to play, sometimes with a maddening lock up that resisted anything short of turning off the player, sometimes with mystifying and instantaneous jumps to random index points on the disc.

At first I assumed that this persistent failure was inherent to DVD. My wife hadn't been enthusiastic about DVD to begin with and perfidious Sony only reinforced her suspicions.

Then my father-in-law won a free no-name DVD player in a store promotion. It was exactly the kind of player you'd expect would be given away: small, flimsy, and unrefined.

It played all DVDs flawlessly.

My guts burned like napalm.

I did some retrospective research. I found that our model of Sony DVD player was notorious in the digital media community as a dog, a lemon, a waste of plastic and electricity.

Then, just to dig the knife in a little deeper, I learned that our brand-name Sony DVD player turned up its nose at any format other than CD, DVD, or DVD-R.

This week, after years of pain, we swapped out the slippery Sony turd for a nice Pioneer unit.

I did my research before handing over my cash. Duh.

It plays all formats.

It plays library DVDs that look like they were used as Frisbees and chew toys with only the tiniest of digital artifacts.

It has a USB port on its front so you can play just about anything you can put on a USB device. I'm not sure how much I'll use this, but it was a freebie feature that didn't influence our decision.

So, like, wow. This DVD stuff is pretty cool. Finally.

From Satan's Dank Fundament

October 8th, 2008

I can't take it any longer.

The tedious screaming pedant in me claws at my gall bladder for escape.

I usually keep him tied down, even if the bindings are the lightest of cellophane wraps.

Pedantry and pleasing social interaction don't mix very well.

But it's not my fault. It's everyone else and their paper-cut scalpels sawing at the poor wretch's eyeballs.

I hate the habit of substituting "impact" for "effect/affect".

I suppose that folks think they sound more dynamic and forceful. After all, meteorites impact things. Too many people paid actually money to watch Deep Impact or Armageddon.

These days, tax policies and natural disasters don't just have an impact on people, they actually impact people. Technically, this is still correct usage, if a little obscure and tortured.

Folks commit the worst offense when they use the preterit or past participle.

For example, I present a headline: "Inflation soars on food, fuel prices; anti-poverty gains impacted".

Only things that have been physically struck by something (not just affected by that something) or things that have been packed firmly together should be impacted

Planets are impacted. Wisdom teeth are impacted. Feces are impacted.

If you tell me that a meteorite impacted the shed in your back yard, I'll yip with glee and plead to be shown the chunk of star stuff.

However, if you tell me that the recent financial crisis impacted you, my foot will impact your yarbles.

Tune in next week when I rant at length about the pernicious "effect vs. affect" controversy.

I Love History

September 26th, 2008

Humans are funny creatures.

Quoting again from William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire, examining the belief that the Church was immutable and perfect:

In A.D. 340 Saint Cyril of Jerusalem had reasoned that what all men believe must be true, and ever since then the purity of the faith had derived from its wholeness, from the conviction, as expressed by an early Jesuit, that all who worshiped were united in "one sacramental system under the government of the Roman Pontiff."

If enough people believe hard enough, it's true, like "we are the master race and we will now invade Russia" or "our Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere will bring peace and civilization to our half of the globe" or "we need to invade before Saddam unleashes his WMDs". If you doubt or question then you are an unpatriotic terrorist-lover.

Manchester characterizes medieval leaders' inability to account for the sweeping changes to be brought by the nascent Renaissance:

The popes, emperors, cardinals, kinds, prelates, and nobles of the time sorted through the snarl [of events] and, being typical men in power, chose to believe what they wanted to believe, accepting whatever justified their policies and convictions and ignoring the rest.

How depressingly familiar.

In Medias Book Review Preview

September 24th, 2008

Yeah. It's a crappy title for a blog entry. Sue me.

I'm reading William Manchester's A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance.

It's a rather light work "with no scholarly pretensions" according to the author, meaning that each paragraph doesn't strain under the weight of 20 pages of footnotes and citations.

I haven't even made it out of the Author's Note and I'm guffawing.

Take, for example, Manchester's trope of the kaleidoscope as he muses on how his portrait of the age coalesced: "The period became a kind of kaleidoscope for me; every time I shook it, I saw a new picture."

Manchester sets up the pay-off when he compares his vision with that of an earlier medievalist scholar, quoting Henry Osborn Taylor in his The Mediaeval Mind: "The present work is not occupied with the brutalities and superstition of mediaeval life, nor with all the lower grades of ignorance and superstition abounding in the Middle Ages... Consequently I have not such things very actively in mind when speaking of the mediaeval genius. That phrase, and the like, in this book, will signify the more informed and constructive spirit of the mediaeval time."

Manchester then cuts loose with his zinger: "No matter how hard I shake my kaleidoscope, I cannot see what he saw." He then sets the tone expertly, questioning Taylor's idealistic focus on Christian ideals and his predecessor's dismissal of the "lower grades" of human experience by contending that an understanding of the medieval mind cannot be "achieved without a careful study of brutality, ignorance, and delusions in the Middle Ages, not just among the laity, but at the highest Christian altars." Manchester then punctuates his argument with a flourish: "Christianity survived despite medieval Christians, not because of them."

I'm looking forward to the rest of the book.

First Movement

September 23rd, 2008

You know, sitting on a toilet for eight hours over two days sweating and moaning in agony with your guts on fire really makes you appreciate the small things in life, like taking a crap.