Outstreched arm

Friday, August 31, 2007

You crazy diamond

Christ, have you seen a British action film lately? Or horror, or sci-fi, or that mix of those three that's been engulfing the latter two lately? It really makes you sigh as you realize you're bound for one of those anti-Hollywood rants in which ideas are few, cliches are many, and star power and cash are the evil high fructose corn syrup of the movie industry.

Look, it's not a pretty rant, and it's as tedious as some of the movies it attacks. But seeing Danny Boyle's Sunshine will surely make you revisit it. Sunshine isn't perfect, it's not a classic, it's fairly formulaic, and it probably won't do too well in theaters - but compare it to the more American alternatives. It will stand out as fresh, ambitious, energetic, and convincing.

The story: as our Sun shuts down and condemns the Earth to a hell frozen over, a manned space mission is approaching our beloved star with the intent of dropping a purely theoretical "Big Bang bomb" on it to restart its fiery core. The ship is a tiny tail trailing behind a giant solar shield whose exposed surface is rendered in an epic way, making it seem like for a moment, the cinema screen is burning brighter than it actually can.

This is the second "Icarus" mission, and as they lose communication with Earth, our crew run into the remains of the first, unsuccessful mission. The decision to go slightly off course and check it out is a risky one, and things go predictably haywire.

This sub-genre of people trapped in a ship on their way to some grand purpose is nothing new, and Boyle doesn't mess with its hallmarks: the crew interacts in a Lord Of The Flies fashion soon enough, the universe turns out to be a harsh mistress full of surprises, and there's plenty of techno-talk throughout.

But it works, mate. The characters are real, thanks in large to the only vaguely familiar cast. When he's faced with a cliche - say, an onboard computer that disobeys orders - Boyle builds up mounds of suspense around it so your poor reptilian brain, too busy with rollercoaster emotions, doesn't mind it. And this is far from popcorn entertainment - think 2001 without the obliqueness or Dark Star without the goofiness. It's spiritual and artsy, but it has one heck of a Sun God to be spiritual and artsy about.

In the end, the missteps come courtesy of Hollywood writing. There's an element late in the movie that's not quite lousy, but Sunshine would've done just fine without it. It feels a little too much like suspense filler, and Doyle does a very good job of directing it, but it's still... oh well, you'll either notice or you won't. In either case, that little distraction shouldn't ruin the movie.

Remember Aronofsky's Fountain, the staggeringly pretentious, three-era epic about love and immortality which played out like a stretched-out student film? How disappointing was that? Sunshine is more fun, more thrilling, and, heck, it's "deeper".

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tips for installing RAM in an aluminum iMac

I upgraded the RAM on my brand-new, 24" iMac today; I got the chip from Crucial, who are a great deal compared to Apple's prices (though prices of upgrades on the new iMacs dropped significantly compared to previous models - they're almost competitive!)

The user manual will tell you to carefully place the iMac screen side down on a towel, then unscrew the door on the bottom of the screen, pull out the tab, click the chip in, replace the tab, and screw the door back in. Here's what I wish they had also said:

- The 24" iMac is big, so there's a lot of inertia when you're swinging it around. Think about how carefully you were going to do this, then be twice as careful.
- The RAM door is somewhat blocked by the stand.
- The bottom of the stand has graphic instructions for installing RAM. Useful.
- The screw they chose is a little odd. Don't use a very pointy, sharp screwdriver. Get a fairly dull one, otherwise it will just spin in place.
- The manual says that the chip will "click" in place. This has never been my experience with any slot, really - it's more like, it goes in 80% of the way, then you have to push it a little further, but it never "clicks".

All in all, it took about a minute once I found the right screwdriver to use. Whatever you do, don't strip the screw head - I'm an expert with stripped screws, and I would NOT want to be rescuing this particular one. It is, after all, attached to an important part of an expensive and beautiful computer.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

New toy

I just ordered myself one of these beauties:

New 24" iMac.

I'm upgrading from a three-year old PowerBook. After I sell it, my total cost for moving to a gorgeous new computer (and an all-in-one printer/scanner/whatever) will be around $400. Love it.