Random Thoughts – Randocity!

WHO ups ante: Sunbeds now classified as bad as ‘tobacco’ for cancer risk.

Posted in tanning by commorancy on July 29, 2009

A new study conducted with mice that the WHO has latched onto and  that I’ve yet to read, now classifies sunbeds specifically and all UV exposure at the highest risk of causing skin cancer (on par with Tobacco).  I’m not sure what prompted this change in view, other than a single study, but they have made this change.  Clearly, one study is not enough to make this determination, but that is exactly what the World Health Organization is doing.  There must be some subtext here that’s prompting this change.  Perhaps the sunscreen industry is losing more money to people choosing to tan rather than buy and slather on the sunscreen.

The WHO claims that “It has been estimated that a sunbed tan offers the same protective effect as using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of only 2-3.”  I’d guess that most lighter skinned people can only produce a tan (in a sunbed or outdoors) that protects you 2-3 times the amount you normally could stay outside.  Without a tan, if you can stay out 1 hour without burning/tanning, then with a tan you can stay outside 2-3 hours without burning or substantially tanning.  That’s fairly significant.  The WHO shrugs it off as miniscule.  Compared to SPF 50,  it is miniscule.  But realize, that even at 15 minutes max time outdoors without sunscreen, there aren’t 12.5 hours of sunlight in a day when using SPF 50. So, SPF 50 is overkill for most people.  I’d also venture to guess that the WHO’s SPF 2-3 tan protection estimation is on the low side.  Yes, if you only tan once a week in a bed and get only a very light tan, that might only make an SPF of 2-3.  But, if you get a darker tan, then it will be a lot more protective perhaps up to 4-6 depending on color.  Of course, how much melanin you can produce will also dictate how strong your protection is.  Note that all skin colors will eventually burn, even the darkest tones.  The question is, how long does it take?

The WHO’s SPF arguments completely discount the fact that a tan is full spectrum UV protection and, instead, suggests reliance on the sunscreens to protect you.  What is this nonsense?  Sunscreens are nowhere near full spectrum protection.  In fact, most suncreens only really protect you from UVB and many provide limited or non-existent protection to UVA.  Many UVA blocking chemicals wear off or degrade far faster than UVB protection.  So, even while you may not burn with the UVB protection, your UVA protection may have worn off 10 minutes ago.  A tan is visible, you can see it.  Sunscreen is invisible, you can’t see it.  A tan that you can see, you know is working.  A sunscreen that you can’t see, you can’t know that it’s working.  So, you have to reapply at least every 30 minutes to 1 hours to ensure constant protection.

For SPF, consider this.  There are 8-10 major sunlit hours in the day.  If you have an SPF of 3 and can stay out 1 hour without burning, that means you can stay out 3 hours without burning with SPF 3 protection.   How often do people stay outdoors longer than 3 hours in direct sunlight?  Of the places that come to mind, I see an amusement park, a waterpark or perhaps at the beach surfing.  These three  situations can easily kill more than 4 hours outdoors.  So, in these instances, you wouldn’t want to rely on a tan alone to protect you even if you had an extremely dark tan.  But, of the three, two are water activities where sunscreens don’t really work well.  So, with outdoor water activities, having a tan is far more helpful than using sunscreens that continually wash off.

Benefits outweigh Risks

William B. Grant (Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC), San Francisco, CA, USA) suggests in his December 2008 article that the benefits of UV exposure outweigh any risks that UV might impose.  For example, he states,

“Humanity’s relation to solar UVB and vitamin D should first be put into the biological perspective. Solar UVB has always been the primary source of vitamin D for life on Earth. On the other hand, UV can damage DNA and generate free radicals, as well as destroy folate in the skin. As a result, skin pigmentation adapted to prevailing solar UV doses where people lived for many generations: very dark in equatorial plains regions, brown in tropical forests and subtropical locations, and very light in high-latitude European locations (Jablonski and Chaplin, 2000). Many people now may live where their skin is too light for prevailing UV doses, resulting in increased risk of skin cancer, or too dark, leading to vitamin D deficiencies.”

Assuming that UV and skin cancer are linked conclusively, his argument suggests another reason for higher incidence of skin cancer.  Because the world is literally an open travel destination, peoples from all over the world are now moving to regions they would not normally inhabit.  Thus, lighter skinned people are moving to regions with more UV exposure than normal for their protection level. Darker skinned people are becoming vitamin D deficient because UV isn’t strong enough when they move to less sunny areas.

Of UV exposure, Mr. Grant also writes,

“The benefits of UVB irradiance and vitamin D extend well beyond cancer. There is mounting evidence that vitamin D also reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases (Dobnig et al., 2008). The benefits for UVB irradiance accrue even in youth, as reported for bone development (Lamberg-Allardt and Viljakainen, 2008), multiple sclerosis (Grant, 2008van der Mei et al., 2003), breast cancer (John et al., 2007b), and prostate cancer (John et al., 2007a). One reason for an early-life benefit is that vitamin D increases absorption of calcium, which reduces the risk of cancer (Lappe et al., 2007Peterlik and Cross, 2005).”

On the one hand, you have the WHO claiming ‘tanning beds’ are the highest risk for cancer (especially for those under 30) and on the other you have the benefits of vitamin D (especially during early years) that help reduce your chances of cancer and aid in health.  These statements are very opposing.  In fact, evidence suggests that UV exposure also aids in the reduction of other illnesses.   Of the benefits of Vitamin D, Mr Grant again states,

“Also, vitamin D strengthens the innate immune system against both bacterial and viral infections through the production of human cathelicidin, LL-37 (Aloia and Li-Ng, 2007Hewison, 2008), thereby reducing the risk of viral infections such as Epstein–Barr virus that lead to other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and several types of cancer (Grant, 2008).”

And he states that 1000-2000 IU of Vitamin D per day can aid in the reduction of  other diseases and of contracting viruses including “… seasonal influenza and the common cold (Aloia and Li-Ng, 2007).”  I can attest to that.  UV exposure has kept me from getting the flu or a cold for the last two years running.

Sunlight

Humans have enjoyed sunlight since the beginning.  To now claim that natural sunlight is more dangerous than a chemical bath in sunscreen products is basically ridiculous.  Let’s actually do some studies to determine if sunscreen chemicals are truly long-term safe, shall we?  I digress.  If sunlight were truly as carcinogenic as the WHO puts forth in their very alarmist announcement, then humans would not exist today and we would have been one big heap of skin cancer.  Yet, that hasn’t happened.  So, then the question becomes, what has changed?  What are we now doing that we weren’t doing years ago?  I think the answer is in the all of the manmade products and foods that we consume.  The unnaturalness of working in closed indoor spaces instead of being outdoors.   Of course, this includes Mr. Grant’s argument of inhabiting regions with higher doses of UV.  So, when we do go outdoors to play, we get badly burned and we effectively have no protection.

Other sources of UV

There are other incidental sources of UV that you may also not be aware.  If you work in an office building or perhaps even in your home, fluorescent bulbs have become extremely common place.  While the UV that emanates from these bulbs is not as strong as those in tanning beds, they still give off UV.  Haven’t you ever wondered why plants love to be under fluorescent lights?  That’s the answer.. UV.  So, while there isn’t enough UV exposure from these fluorescents to actually tan you, there is enough exposure throughout an 8 hour day to account for higher incidence of skin cancer in individuals.  These fluorescent lamps may even be in your home in the new ‘energy saver’ bulbs.  So, you may also be further exposing yourself to additional UV without even knowing it.

WHO warns only targeted UV sources

If the WHO wants to exclaim warnings, they need to exclaim them in the proper places.  Right now, they are unfairly targeting tanning beds and tanning salons when natural sunlight falls directly under their warning.  They make no mention of UV from office building flourescent bulbs.  Awardspace.com describes standard fluorescent lamps:

“Fluorescent lamps illuminate 71% of the commercial space in the United States. Most fluorescent lighting gives off UV radiation. Inside the tube, fluorescent lights are pure ultraviolet (UV). Passing through the coating of the tube, they change to  visible light (spikes of violet, green and blue) and are not “supposed” to give off UV radiation, but some leaks out.  There are special filters that can be purchased to block UV light, but most businesses don’t install the filters because of cost.  The filter is a panel that allows light through, but blocks the UV radiation. [Sewell]”

Note that UV exposure is cumulative.  So, sitting under fluorescent lights every day for 8-10 hours is probably equivalent to being out in the sun for several hours.  Note that what’s blocked appears to be mainly UVB or else everyone would go home sunburned every day.  So, what’s left that comes out of the bulbs is likely the longer UVA waves.  These are the UV sources that account for skin aging and sun damage and potentially skin cancer.

William B. Grant quotes from the WHO’s very own web site:

“Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure is a minor contributor to the world’s disease burden, causing an estimated annual loss of 1.6 million (disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs)); i.e. 0.1% of the total global disease burden. A markedly larger annual disease burden, 3.3 billion DALYs, might result from reduction in global UVR exposure to very low levels.” –WHO Review via William B. Grant

Let”s read that again… diseases from UVR exposure (i.e., skin cancer) account for 0.1% of the total global disease burden! Yet, from the WHO’s announcement, they would have you think that it’s nearly all of the world’s disease burden.  The bottom line is, even if the WHO could manage to get every tanning salon in the world closed, the incidence of skin cancer would not likely drop as dramatically as they would think.  First, sunlight is still readily available.  Second, there are plenty of other unexpected UV sources (like office lighting) that go unchecked.  But, even the WHO cautioned that reducing UVR exposure to very low levels might result in a ‘markedly larger annual disease burden’ (due to the lack of vitamin D).  So, the timing of this increase in the risk levels is odd and must have some other subtext that’s pushing it through.  One thing is quite clear, this warning clearly targets tanning beds and tanning salons.  Because this notice clearly intends to target tanning salons and tanning beds, the question then remains as to the motivation behind this announcement at this time.

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Spray tans and Self-Tanners

Posted in self-tanner, tanning by commorancy on July 29, 2009

As a follow up to Sunscreens vs Natural Tanning, I thought I would discuss spray tans and self-tanners. Because suntanning is now almost considered taboo (thanks to the sunscreen and medical industries), many people opt to use a Mystic, Magic or Mist-On spray tanning booth to get that golden glow.  A lot of people, for whatever reason, feel these are safer alternatives to sunlight produced color (melanin).  Here’s some information that you may not know about these spray tan and self-tanners.

Spray Tan Booths

How safe are spray tans?  Well, let’s start with what’s in these spray tanning formulations.  Obviously, there’s water in the solution.  The active ingredient (that tans you) is Dihydroxyacetone (known as DHA) and possibly even Erythrulose.  Both of these ingredients provide color, but in different ways.  Both Erythrulose and DHA are the ingredients in most off-the-shelf self-tanning products that you can find in the drug store.  I say ‘most’ because there are other alternatives that can provide skin color without self-tanners (although, these are simply dyes, colorants, coatings or powders).  Inactive ingredients include temporary bronzer colors (to give immediate color gratification) and possibly other chemicals to aid in delivery.  There are some spray tan booths that provide clear solutions instead of bronzed solutions (which can mark up clothing). The benefit to the spray tan is that they tend to spray on very evenly and help prevent blotchy, streaky and uneven application.  The drawback to spray tanning is that it aerosolizes the DHA and other ingredients so that you inhale it. Most spray tanning booths offer no ventilation systems during the spray tanning process.  In fact, they don’t want the ventilation because the floating particles may help you tan better.  But, because the solution is aerosolized, you are now inhaling these ingredients.  Yes, you wanted your skin surfaced tan, but did you realized that you are now tanning your lungs and nasal passages?  This is not a good thing.

DHA, Erythrulose and the dyes and colorants are not intended to be inhaled in mist particles.  So, while the spray booths are great for even application, they don’t really offer the necessary ventilation to prevent inhalation of these potentially problematic chemicals. Salons are supposed to provide nose plugs that may help filter out these chemicals.  Too many times, however, salons are out of the plugs and you end up inhaling anyway.  In fact, because of the time it takes to spray tan, you really can’t easily hold your breath.  So, you will eventually breathe in the chemicals.

Note that salons that have spray tan booths may opt to purchase third party DHA solutions.  These are solutions not made by the original manufacturer.   As a result, some people have experienced orange or yellow tones from spray tans in salons.  If you spray tan and your color is highly orange, it’s possible that your salon has opted to buy cheaper refills with cheaper ingredients.

Self-tanners: How they work

The two self-tanners listed above include Erythrulose and Dihydroxyacetone (DHA).  Erythrulose takes up to 5 days to fully appear.  Erythrulose provides a yellowish color to the skin.  The Erythrulose color is used to offset the oranges that DHA provides.  DHA begins developing in 4-6 hours reaching maximum color by 12-15 hours.   DHA’s color actually looks reasonably natural between 4-6 hours after application.  Once DHA begins to darken, however, it begins to show the familiar orange and unnatural look by the 12 hour mark.

Airbrush Tan

For the same reason as a booth is a problem, so is an airbrush.  The airbrush provides finer control and finer particles, but that doesn’t equate to safer inhalation risks unless they provide an active vent hood which can reduce inhalation risk.   Airbrush tans, though, do provide better and more even coverage than a spray tan booth.

Safest Way to Apply Self-tanners

The lotion versions are, in fact, the safest way to apply a self tanner.  While an aerosol makes it even and fast, it also makes it more dangerous for inhalation problems.  So, opting for a lotion prevents the inhalation issues.  The difficulty with lotions is uneven application and the possibility of an orange color.

Why do self-tanners turn orange?

Part of the reason for this is color theory.  If you have a bluish undertone to your skin or are very pale, that mixes with the developing color to produce an orange-ish tone.  If you have a tanned tone, the self-tanner enhances the tan and produces a much more natural color and deepens the tan.  Another reason that DHA turns orange is because of the base ingredients with which it’s mixed.  The lotion base that most brands use are cheap.  As a result, the lotion ingredients change the color of the developing DHA to become more orange.  To avoid this, you want to find a high quality lotion base or alternatively find a self-tanner mixed in a gel base.  Some lotions that work well and keep their proper color are Dave’s Famous Moisture Tan and L’Oreal’s Sublime Bronze Gelee.  Dave’s lotion is made in a white base and has a very light nutty scent. L’Oreal’s product has the typical nasty self-tanner scent, but it spreads on incredibly even (not streaky) and gives very good color.

What skin tones can use self-tanners?

While I know that dermatologists recommend self-tanners, you don’t want people to know you fake bake simply by looking.  So, you need to assess your present skin tone to determine if a self-tanner is right for you.  Certain skin tones do not do well with self-tanners.   For example, the white-bluish skin tones do not fake bake well.   The self-tan will likely make you orange or yellow very fast.  The best you can hope for is getting a very light self-tanner, applying it and then washing it off right as the color develops.  Washing immediately as the color develops lets you stop the color development at a point before it gets too dark. You will also need to find a self-tanner that gets you to the proper color.  Some ‘light’ self-tanners still get way too dark, so you should be cautious.  If at the 12 hour mark you are getting too dark, take a shower and lightly soap and rinse to stop further development.

Why do self-tanners smell?

The developing process between the DHA and the skin’s protein gives off an aroma as a result of the developing process.  The smell has been described as ‘wet dog’, ‘musty’, or ‘earthy’ .  The smell comes to its height at about the 12 hour mark after application.   It begins to subside after the 24 hour mark (when the color begins to wear off).  Because of the smell, this is a very telltale way of knowing when someone has used a self-tanner.  Frankly, I find the smell offensive and refuse to use self-tanners for this reason alone.

Note that Dave’s self-tanner  is made with limited fragrance, so it pretty much smells like the lotion mixed with DHA (it has kind of a nutty scent).  The good thing about this is that there is no fragrance to mix with the developing odor to make an even nastier smell.  Too many self-tanners on the market include entirely horrible fragrances to mask the DHA smell.  So, when the color (and odor) develops and mixes with the fragrance, it can sometimes be a nauseating combination. You want to shower just to get the smell off.  With Dave’s lotion, the light nutty fragrance dissipates rapidly so there is no fragrance left when the DHA color and odor develops… and that’s a blessing in disguise.

Self-tanners make my skin rough and dry

Yes, they do.  The best way to resolve this issue is to use a moisturizer frequently.  If you must use DHA to color your skin, your skin texture will change as a result.  You may find that you don’t like the texture that a self-tanner leaves on your skin.  If that’s the case, you may have to abandon use of DHA.

Flaking, peeling and splotchy uneven wear

Self-tanners don’t wear off evenly.  It can wear off to make your skin look splotchy or odd colored.  This is a lot more apparent when you try to go too dark and your skin is very light.   The good thing, though, is a fake bake usually wears off completely by 7-10 days.  That means, if there was a problem during application, it’s gone pretty fast.  The downside, of course, means that you have to reapply the color every 7-10 days to keep your skin tone.  The problem with reapplication is that you need to completely scrub the color off before adding more.  Otherwise, the new color won’t adhere to your skin well enough.  To make your self-tan last as long as possible, here are some tips.

  1. Scrub your skin with a exfoliating buff pad thoroughly prior to application (to remove as much dead dry skin as possible).
  2. Let your skin dry completely before application
  3. Apply a small amount of moisturizing (non-tanning) lotion to the backs of your hands, knuckles,  knees, elbows and ankles to prevent full strength DHA absorption
  4. Once the color appears, apply lotion daily to keep the tan as long as possible
  5. Remove the tan fully with a buff-pad once the tan begins to noticeably flake

Always fully remove any previous self-tan before applying a new tan.  If you don’t do this, your tan will become uneven and may go on too dark.  So, remove the old tan first.

Removing the old self-tan

To remove a self-tan, the best way is to wait until most of it has worn off. Then, use a body exfoliating buff pad to rub the rest off.  The benefit if using a buff pad is that it will get all of the old color off and, at the same time, prep your skin for a new tan.  You should always prepare your skin by exfoliation prior to using a self-tanner.  Otherwise, it may wear unevenly and/or turn way too dark in places.

Tips for working with self-tanners

Self-tanners will tan any skin surface or hair.  So, be careful with it around the plams of your hands and your nails.  Always wear gloves when applying and use a sponge applicator if possible.  For ease of application, buy a lotion with a dark guide.  The guide will aid getting it on evenly.  Gels with oil are reasonably easy to get applied evenly because you can see where the oil is.  The problem with the gel type with oil is that the oil dries slowly.  Lotions dry much faster.  Guides can stain clothing, so be careful.   Do not swim, shower or sweat within 4-7 hours of application.  This can wash off parts of the DHA and cause splotchy or uneven color.  Wait until the color develops before doing swimming or other activities that make you sweat.

If you choose to go the route of a drug store lotion, look for reviews on the Internet first.  People who like a product will usually recommend it.  Amazon is a good place to get reasonably honest reviews of products. To get self-tanner off your palms, fingernails or cuticles, use a cotton swab and some bleach.  The bleach will lighten the self-tanner and make it far less noticeable.

Overall

Finally, expect to spend between 1-3 hours prepping, applying and waiting to dry.  Then, 4-6 hours before color begins to develop.   So, this is not a fast process by any stretch.  Be sure to fully exfoliate before you apply a self-tanner (whether from a bottle or in a salon).   You should moisturize daily to keep the skin moist and preserve the look of the tan.  There’s little you can do to mask the developer odor, so just try to keep yourself from getting wet (when it smells the worst).

Finally, I would like to point out the following possible health issues with self-tanner chemicals:

  1. A DHA tan does not protect you from UV.  Do not use it thinking that you won’t get burned outdoors.  In fact, DHA offers no UV protection at all.  So, if you must be outdoors with your DHA tan, apply sunscreen to fully protect your skin from a burn.
  2. DHA has no long term toxicity studies for its use on the skin.  It is a possibility that DHA leeches into the bloodstream on application.  So, applying DHA may not be healthy to your skin or body… which may take years before it’s ultimately linked to any injury.
  3. Aerosolized DHA in spray tanning booths will be inhaled.  You should be cautious of inhaling aerosolized DHA when using a spray tanning system.  Inhaling DHA into the lungs has not been tested for possible health issues.

Why Serial ATA will ultimately fail

Posted in computers by commorancy on July 17, 2009

Serial ATA is the replacement for Parallel ATA hard drives in computers.   Serial ATA offers faster speeds, yes, but is still immensely inconvenient in the Windows world (and probably with Linux and Mac as well).

Problematic design / brittle plastic

First, the thing you’ll notice different between a PATA drive and SATA drive is the connectors.  Gone are the bigger multipin data connector and the 4 pin power connector.  Instead, now we have a multipin power and multipin data connector that has a slim/thin form factor.  At first glance, you might think this is cool looking replacement connector.  We’ll I’m here to tell you it’s not.  The plastic used to hold the flat pins in place is weak and brittle.  If you’re not absolutely light touch careful with how the drive fits in place, you’re likely to break one or both of the connectors off.  Once that happens, the drive is toast.

In the 18 years I’ve been a systems administrator, I’ve changed many a hard drive and never once broken an IDE’s data connector.  I’ve torn a few cables and I’ve bent a few pins, but this is nothing that can’t be corrected easily leaving the drive fully functional.  With the brittle plastic SATA connectors on the drive itself, it’s extremely easy to break them off.   For this poor design choice alone, this is one reason why SATA manufacturers must eventually redesign this connector or the drive acceptance will fail.

Out with the old, in with the new

Hard drive manufacturers and motherboard manufacturers have been steadily pushing EIDE (IDE) out the door in replacement for SATA drives.  That’s great if everyone was on board at the same time.  Unfortunately, Microsoft still isn’t on board with this change over.  There are still limited native SATA drivers even in Windows Server 2008 (which is an offshoot of Vista).  This means, you must still load drivers for certain popular SATA controllers.  For example, one of the most common controllers used on motherboards is the SI3114 (Silicon Image) controller.  Yet, you still must load drivers to get Windows to recognize a drive connected to it before Windows will install.  If you forgot the driver or don’t realize you need it, you’ll easily spend 30 minutes chasing it down from your controller or motherboard manufacturer.

I realize the hard drive and motherboard manufacturers are trying to affect change, but you can’t do it when Microsoft still isn’t on board.  I guess these businesses haven’t really figured this out yet.

Road to failure

I don’t mean hard drive failure either.  I mean failure of the standard to be accepted in the long term.  For poor design choices and the lack of giving Microsoft time to embed the most common SATA drivers into Windows installation media, SATA drives are likely to eventually fail to be the defacto data storage device of choice.  Connectors on the back of drives need to be rugged (or at least more rugged than the brittle plastic they are using).  The connectors could have been both bigger and more thoughtfully designed than what is on the back of SATA drives.  For hot plugable configs, these connectors seem to work reasonably well, but they are still not perfect (as you have to play with alignment to ensure proper connectivity, hoping you don’t break parts off).  The SCA connector was a much better standard as far as hot plug standards go:  one single connector, big enough to be functional, easy to hotplug and rugged enough to keep from breaking parts off.

SATA drive manufacturers need to work on a design spec for better more rugged connectors on the back of SATA drives.  Motherboard manufacturers need to ensure their SATA controller has a built-in driver in Windows installation packages so no specialty setups are necessary.   Without these two steps, SATA drives will eventually fail to gain the acceptance and the momentum to keep these products going.  Manufacturers seem to think that there is no other choice for data storage in the computer.  When you think of hard drives, ATA drives are the first that come to mind.  But, we are fast approaching solid state technologies.   These solid state storage technologies don’t need the hoggy space of a hard drive chassis, the spinning noise and the eventual failure.  With solid state drives, instead of 1U machines, we may even begin seeing 1/2U machines or less.

Fix it or fail

Hard drive manufacturers need to rethink SATA.  They need to design both a better connector and faster data rates.  3Gbps speeds is reasonably fast, but we need to be about 10Gbps before vast improvements in transfer rates are actually noticed at a storage level.

Without the necessary support, which by now we should have had in the SATA world, it doesn’t make sense for HD manufacturers to push IDE out the door.  There are still far too many times where IDE devices are necessary to get a system to a workable state.  Motherboard manufacturers need to be doubly careful.  SATA-only motherboards lead to challenges during installation of Windows due to lack of drivers.  These installation challenges can lead to frustration and eventually a return of the motherboard to the store.

For all of these reasons, the SATA specification and design needs to be rethought.  The brittle plastic connectors are no where near rugged enough and need to be made much more sturdy.   The lack of driver support makes installation and repairs extremely frustrating.  Chasing down SATA drivers to place on floppy disks can be a challenge even for the most knowledgeable.

For now, this is the state of SATA.  It was a promising standard, but for now it’s become a problem because the hard drive industry is trying to push for change far too rapidly without adequately testing the design of the drive.  For anyone reading who may work with SATA designs or manufacturing, please feel free to take this to your bosses for review.

Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Posted in movies by commorancy on July 16, 2009

After getting back from seeing this film (twice), I felt it needed some discussion.  So, let’s go.  Note, this may contain Harry Potter spoilers.. so do not continue if you haven’t seen or read.  You have been warned.

Conversion

The book to movie conversion was done reasonably well.  This movie, like most that have preceded it, have missed the mark on certain aspects.  What makes a Harry Potter book good is all of the nuances that J.K. Rowling includes.  Most of these nuances and subtleties just can’t be placed into the films and Half-Blood Prince (HBP) is no exception.  You would think that by 6 films into this series that the die-hard critics would understand and be used to all of the missing things.  Unfortunately, they aren’t and they are still complaining about this same aspect.  Critics, get over it.  If you want an exact conversion, do it yourself or wait for a TV series version.

Yes, there were a lot of small subtleties that were left out of the movie.  Some of them can’t easily be filmed and others just don’t work for the story.  However, there were some things that were left out of the films that I felt were important to understand.  Like, for example, the apparation classes in Order of the Phoenix (OOTP) that were completely left out of that film.  By leaving it out of OOTP, it means that this can’t be easily taken advantage of in HBP.  So, when Harry apparates with Dumbledore, it’s a surprise to everyone.  Yet, we would have already seen this in OOTP if it had been in the film.

The one thing that is noticeably absent from HBP is the Dursley family.  Gone is Little Whinging.  Other than cursory mention of it and a background street scene, there is nothing in the film.  Granted, I haven’t read the HBP novel since it came out, so I don’t even really recall how much of the Dursley’s were in the novel.  Note that I haven’t re-read the novel because I wanted to go into the film without having recently read the book.  I find that I enjoy the films more this way.  I will now re-read the novel having seen the film.

Thoughts

While I generally liked HBP, I felt that the movie wasn’t as thrilling or as much a rollercoaster as OOTP.  The Order of the Phoenix was one of my least favorite books in the series, yet it turned out to be one of my top favorites in HP films.  Why?  Because they were able to turn the lackluster pacing of the book into a spectacularly paced film. Half-Blood Prince’s pacing is a bit too even and, frankly, slow.  There was not enough going on in most of the scenes, even when there was something going on. Instead, HBP relies more on cinematography to pull off the slow paced scenes.  In most cases, it does so quite well.  This film was beautifully filmed for the most part. For the same reason that many critics filmatically liked Prisoner of Azkaban, I’d say those cinematography critiques also fit with Half-Blood Prince.

Unfortunately, the pacing was far too lackluster throughout most of the film to give the necessary emotional power needed after Snape does his deed in the Astronomy tower.  So, you really don’t feel emotional at a time when you need to.  The whole thing feels very detached.  I think part of the problem is that Dumbledore wasn’t given enough character build-up throughout the films to provide the necessary emotional attachment in this film.  In other words, we really needed to see just how dear Dumbledore was to everyone to really get the sense of loss.  Even still, this film should have been able to set it up enough to give that emotional punch at the end even when the previous films failed in character building. I also believe that this is part of the reason so many people weren’t completely convinced of the death at the end of the HBP novel.

Because of the lack of the emotional ending and the lack of the necessary rollercoaster ride needed for this film, it leaves the experience a bit on the flat side. There was plenty of teen angst moments throughout much of the film and that is probably the thing that carries this film.  We definitely needed to see that part of the story to fully understand what is about to happen in films 7 and 8 (assuming book 7 is still planned as a two-part film), but we also needed the emotional impact to feel for the character we’ve just lost (and that didn’t happen).

Overall

I liked Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince, but not as much as the Order of the Phoenix.  OOTP is better primarily because the intensity level was much higher than HBP.  There were a few tense moments in HBP, but nowhere close to OOTP or even Goblet of Fire.  I also felt that for what’s about to happen in Deathly Hallows that this film needed to ratchet up the intensity and failed to do so. Whomever is directing Deathly Hallows will have to ratchet up the intensity in that film rather than relying on HBP to do it.

Malls and shopping

Posted in shopping by commorancy on July 11, 2009

I like shopping, for the most part.  But, I shop only for the things I need and I like to feel I’m getting my items at a good price.  However, more and more when shopping locally, I find myself visiting shops that are independant of malls.  Frankly, I don’t really like shopping in malls for several reasons.  The first reason is parking. In the ‘better’ malls, it can be difficult to find parking on the weekends or during other busy times (e.g., holiday shopping).  Rarely, however, do I find this difficulty when visiting stores in smaller venues or independent stores like Best Buy or Ikea.  The second reason I don’t like malls is that the retailers have to pad their prices to cover their overhead of being in a mall.  For me, I don’t need to buy their items bad enough to help them cover their mall rent.

Cookie Cutter

More and more, we have become a society of cookie cutter items.  Items that you can find at thousands of other stores.  This goes for just about every item imaginable… from clothing, to appliances, to food, to electronics, to computers.  There’s really very little made these days that is one-of-a-kind unique… with the exception of art.  Even music and movies are cookie-cutter items.  They may be unique to the content producer, but they want that material disseminated widely, so there are potentially millions of copies produced.

Gone are the days of items that are produced in small quantities.  Yes, occasionally items will be produced in limited editions.  But, the reality is, even these items while numbered and limited may not actually be limited.  The reason, the producer will turn around and repackage the item in a mass produced package that’s sold to millions.  So, the limited edition package is limited, the actual product isn’t.

Digital World

In our up-and-coming digital world, uniqueness will be a thing of the past.  Because digital items can be produced in mass quantities easily, there is effectively no way to produce a limited edition digital item.  Even if there were, how could you guarantee the authenticity or genuine uniqueness of the item?  You can’t. So our digital economy will move us more and more away from unique individual hand produced items.

Arts and Crafts

On the other hand, arts and crafts including individual tailored fashions will be where the unique one-of-a-kind items will be created.  You will need to commission an artist and pay the price in order to get unique items.  I mean, items that no one else has.  Fine artists also produce these items and will continue.  By fine art, I do not refer to such boilerplate artists like Thomas Kinkade.  I refer to actual artists who paint their own works, knit their own clothes or create their own pottery.  These are the unique items that make shopping unique and fun.  It means you have something that no one else in the world has.

Malls

Malls are frustrating, at best, to walk around in.  They are big and, at times, crowded.  As you walk around, the kiosk staff bombard you with silly offers of cleansing your face with goopy mixtures to dropping RC helicopters on your head to AT&T staff hawking their phones while you walk by.  And. these are in the ‘high class’ malls.  Is there any decorum left in these malls?  I’d rather go to a store like Target where the staff actually has shopping interferance rules.  For example, when was the last time you went to Target or Wal-Mart only to be harrassed by an employee to clean your face with some goop or hawking some latest thing?  It never happens.

On top of the markup overhead of a mall, the mall experience is simply annoying at best and frustrating at worst.  The stores do not provide unique items, yet charge high dollars for their non-unique items.  And yet, considering the cookie-cutter nature of a mall, it can still be difficult to find the right item, size or style.  Usually because what you want is not in vogue for that year, so no one actually has it.  Yet, last year they were everywhere.

Worse, the costs for a retailer to inhabit a mall is so high that you only find the most expensive chains in these malls. It’s rare that a smaller mom-and-pop sized store can afford to be in these malls just due to the square footage costs.  So, Malls themselves end up being cookie cutter by the stores they can afford to attract.  So, when you walk into the mall, you can pretty well expect only the most solvent and biggest chains will be there.  Gone are the smaller retailers and independants from these cookie-cutter outlets.

Shopping Experience

Over the years, the shopping experience has changed.  Malls used to be a reasonable fun place to visit.  There was a good mix of big chains and small mom-and-pops.  Today, it’s more about the Abercrombie and Fitchs’ of the world.  It’s less about unique items and more about bigger retailers and staying in business.  With the economy the way that it is, the mall is not the place to shop.  Yet, one visit to a mall and you will still see people there shopping and spending money getting their cookie-cutter items.  Frankly, I’d rather not deal with this hassle and, instead go to a smaller strip mall or an independent retailer and avoid that hassle.

What’s wrong with Vista / Windows?

Posted in microsoft, tanking, windows by commorancy on July 6, 2009
This post comes from a variety of issues that I’ve had with Vista (specifically Vista 64 Home Premium).  And, chances are, these problems will not be resolved in Windows 7.  Yet, here they are in all their glory.
Memory Leaks
Vista has huge and horrible memory leaks.  After using Vista for a period of time (a week or two without a reboot) and using a variety of memory intensive 3D applications (Daz Studio, Carrara, The Gimp and Poser.. just to name a few), the system’s memory usage goes from 1.69GB to nearly 3GB in usage.  To answer the burning question… yes, I have killed all apps completely and I am comparing empty system to empty system.  Worse, there is no way to recover this memory short of rebooting.  If you had ever wondered why you need to reboot Windows so often, this is the exact reason.  For this reason alone, this is why Windows is not considered ‘stable’ by any stretch and why UNIX outperforms Windows for this reason alone.
Startup and Shutdown
Microsoft plays games with both of these procedures.
On Startup, Microsoft’s engineers have tricked you into thinking the system is functional even when it isn’t.  Basically, once the desktop appears, you think you can begin working.  In reality, even once the desktop appears, you still cannot work.  The system is still in the process of starting up the Windowing interface on top of about 100 background services (on many of which the windowing interface relies).  This trick makes Windows appear snappier to start up than it really is.  In fact, I would prefer it to just ready the system fully, then present the Windowing interface when everything is 100% complete.  I don’t want these tricks.  When I see the windowing interface, I want to know I can begin using it immediately… not before.
On Shutdown, we have other issues.  With Vista, Microsoft Engineers have done something to this process to make it, at times, ridiculously slow.  I have seen 8-15 minute ‘Shutting Down’ screens where the hard drive grinds the entire time.  I’m sorry, but shutdown time is not housekeeping time.  That needs to be done when the system is running.  It should not be done during shutdown procedures.  A shutdown should take no more than about 1-2 minutes to complete flushing buffers to disk and killing all processes.  If it can’t be done in 1-2 minutes, shut the system down anyway as there is nothing that can be done to finish those tasks anyway.
Windows Updates
Microsoft was supposed to eliminate the need to shutdown/reboot for most Windows updates.  For some updates, this is true.  For the majority of Windows updates, this is still not true.  In fact, Microsoft has, once again, made this process multistep and tediously slow in the process.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that they are now at least verbose in, sort of, what’s going on.. but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s horribly slow.  The steps now are as follows:
Windows installation process (downloading and installation through the Windows dialog box).  You think it’s over when you..
Restart the system and it goes through finishing Step 2 of this process during shutdown… and then you think it’s over again when
The system starts back up and goes through Step 3 of the update process.
Ok, I’m at a loss.  With Windows XP, we had two steps.  Those first during Windows updater and the second when the system starts back up.   Now with Vista, we have to introduce another step?
Windows Explorer
For whatever reason, Windows Explorer in Vista is horribly broken.  In Window XP, you used to be able to configure your Windows how you liked then lock it in with Tools->Folder Options  and then View->Apply to Folders.  This would lock in exactly how every window should appear (list or icon format, size of icons, etc).  With Windows Vista, this is completely and uterly broken.  This functionality just no longer works.  I’ve tried many many times to lock in a format and Windows just randomly changes the folders back to whatever it feels like doing.
For example, I like my windows to look like this:
Unfortunately, Windows has its down agenda.  If I open a file requester (the standard Vista requester… the one that looks like the above) and I change the view to ANY other folder than this one, it randomly changes folders on the system.  So, I might open the above folder and it will later look like any of these:

This post comes from a variety of issues that I’ve had with Vista (specifically Vista 64 Home Premium).  And, chances are, these problems will not be resolved in Windows 7.  Yet, here they are in all their glory.

Memory Leaks

Vista has huge and horrible memory leaks.  After using Vista for a period of time (a week or two without a reboot) and using a variety of memory intensive 3D applications (Daz Studio, Carrara, The Gimp and Poser.. just to name a few), the system’s memory usage goes from 1.69GB to nearly 3GB in usage.  To answer the burning question… yes, I have killed all apps completely and I am comparing empty system to empty system.  Worse, there is no way to recover this memory short of rebooting.  If you had ever wondered why you need to reboot Windows so often, this is the exact reason.  For this reason alone, this is why Windows is not considered ‘stable’ by any stretch and why UNIX outperforms Windows for this reason alone.

Startup and Shutdown

Microsoft plays games with both of these procedures.

On Startup, Microsoft’s engineers have tricked you into thinking the system is functional even when it isn’t.  Basically, once the desktop appears, you think you can begin working.  In reality, even once the desktop appears, you still cannot work.  The system is still in the process of starting up the Windowing interface on top of about 100 background services (on many of which the windowing interface relies).  This trick makes Windows appear snappier to start up than it really is.  In fact, I would prefer it to just ready the system fully, then present the Windowing interface when everything is 100% complete.  I don’t want these tricks.  When I see the windowing interface, I want to know I can begin using it immediately… not before.

On Shutdown, we have other issues.  With Vista, Microsoft Engineers have done something to this process to make it, at times, ridiculously slow.  I have seen 8-15 minute ‘Shutting Down’ screens where the hard drive grinds the entire time.  I’m sorry, but shutdown time is not housekeeping time.  That needs to be done when the system is running.  It should not be done during shutdown procedures.  A shutdown should take no more than about 1-2 minutes to complete flushing buffers to disk and killing all processes.  If it can’t be done in 1-2 minutes, shut the system down anyway as there is nothing that can be done to finish those tasks anyway.

Windows Updates

Microsoft was supposed to eliminate the need to shutdown/reboot for most Windows updates.  For some updates, this is true.  For the majority of Windows updates, this is still not true.  In fact, Microsoft has, once again, made this process multistep and tediously slow in the process.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that they are now at least verbose in, sort of, what’s going on.. but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s horribly slow.  The steps now are as follows:

  1. Windows installation process (downloading and installation through the Windows dialog box).  You think it’s over when you..
  2. Restart the system and it goes through finishing Step 2 of this process during shutdown… and then you think it’s over again when
  3. The system starts back up and goes through Step 3 of the update process.

Ok, I’m at a loss.  With Windows XP, we had two steps.  Those first during Windows updater and the second when the system starts back up.   Now with Vista, we have to introduce another step?

Windows Explorer

For whatever reason, Windows Explorer in Vista is horribly broken.  In Window XP, you used to be able to configure your Windows how you liked then lock it in with Tools->Folder Options  and then View->Apply to Folders.  This would lock in exactly how every window should appear (list or icon format, size of icons, etc).  With Windows Vista, this is completely and utterly broken.  Basically, this functionality simply no longer works.  I’ve tried many many times to lock in a format and Windows just randomly changes the folders back to whatever it feels like doing.

For example, I like my windows to look like this:

Favorite Format

Favorite Format

Unfortunately, Windows has its own agenda.  If I open a file requester (the standard Vista requester… the one that looks like the above) and I change the view to ANY other style than the one above, this change randomly changes other folder views on the system permanently.  So, I might open the above folder and it will later look like any of these:

Format Changed 1

Format Changed 1

Format Changed 2

Format Changed 2

or even

Format Changed 3

Format Changed 3

All of which is highly frustrating.  So, I’ll visit this folder later and see the entire headers have changed, or it’s changed to icon format or some other random format.  Worse, though, is that I’ve specifically changed to the folder to be my favorite format with Tools->Options.  In fact, I’ve gone through this permanent change at least 3-4 times after random changes  have happened and inevitably it changes to some other format later.  Again, highly frustrating.

Access Denied / Enhanced Security

For whatever reason, Microsoft has made shortcuts to certain folders.  Like for example, in your profile directory they have renamed ‘My Documents’ to simply ‘Documents’.  Yet, for whatever reason, Microsoft has created shortcuts that don’t work.  For example, if I click on ‘My Documents’ shortcut, I see ‘Access Denied’.  I don’t get why they would create a shortcut and then prevent it from working.

The only thing the enhanced security has done for Windows users is make it more of a problem to work.  Security goes both ways.  It helps protect you from malicious intent, but it can also get in the way of usability.  Security that ultimately gets in the way, like UAC, has failed to provide adequate security.  In fact, it has gone too far.  UAC is a complete and utter failure.  Combining this with making nearly every security issue tied to the SYSTEM user (with practically zero privileges), makes for stupid and exasperating usability.

Filesystem

To date, Windows still relies heavily and ONLY on NTFS.  Linux has about 5-6 different filesystems to choose from (Reiser, VxFS, XFS, Ext2, Ext3, JFS, BSD and several others).  This allows systems administrators to build an operating system that functions for the application need.  For example, some filesystems perform better for database use than others.   On Windows, you’re stuck with NTFS.  Not only is NTFS non-standard and proprietary (written by Veritas), it also doesn’t perform as well as it should under all conditions.  For database use, this filesystem is only barely acceptable.  It has hidden limits that Microsoft doesn’t publish that will ultimately bite you.  Microsoft wants this to become a pre-eminent datacenter system, but that’s a laugh.  You can’t trust NTFS enough for that.  There are way too many hidden problems in NTFS.  For example, if you hit a random limit, it can easily and swiftly corrupt NTFS’ MFT table (directory table).  Once the MFT table is corrupt, there’s no easy way to repair it other than CHKDSK. Note that CHKDSK is the ONLY tool that can truly and completely fix NTFS issues.  And, even CHKDSK doesn’t always work.  Yes, there are third party tools from Veritas and other companies, but these aren’t necessarily any better than CHKDSK.  Basically, if CHKDSK can’t fix your volume, you have to format and restore.

Note, however, that this isn’t a general Vista issue.  This problem has persisted back to the introduction of NTFS in Windows NT.  But, Microsoft has made no strides to allow or offer better more complete filesystems with better repair tools.  For example, Reiser and EXT3 both offer more complete repair tools than NTFS ever has.

Registry

The registry has got to be one of the most extensive hacks ever placed into any operating system.  This kludge of a database system is so completely botched from a design perspective, that there’s really nothing to say.  Basically, this system needs to be tossed and redesigned.  In fact, Microsoft has a real database system in MSSQL.  There is no reason why the registry is not based on MSSQL rather than that stupid hack of a thing call a hive/SAM.  Whomever decided on this design, well.. let’s just hope they no longer work at Microsoft.

Failure

For the above reasons (and others), Microsoft has completely failed with Windows Vista.  This failure was already in the making, though, when Longhorn was announced ages ago.  In fact, Microsoft had planned even more draconian measures to enable heavy DRM on Windows.  Thankfully, that was removed from Vista.  But, what remains makes Vista so encumbered and exasperating to use, it’s no wonder users are frustrated using Vista.  Combining that with its incredibly large footprint (1.6GB of memory just to boot the OS), and you have a complete loser of an OS.

Windows 7 is a glimmer of hope, but it is still heavily tied to Vista.  If UAC and these stupid SYSTEM user security measures remain, then nothing will really change.  Microsoft needs to take Windows back to the drawing board and decide what is necessary and what isn’t.  Preventing the user from actually using the operating system is not and should not be a core value, let alone part of security.  Yet, here we are.

Microsoft, you need to take a look at the bigger picture.  This is your final chance to get Windows right.  There are plenty of other unencumbered operating systems out there that do not get in the way of desktop computing.  These operating systems are definitely a threat to Microsoft’s continued viability… especially with blundering mistakes like Vista.  Windows will never win any awards for Best Operating System with issues such as these.  Consider Microsoft’s stupid filesystem layout that allows operating system and application files to be thrown all over the hard drive and you’ll begin to understand why Windows continues to fail.

The single reason why Microsoft continues to exist is because users feel compelled to buy this antiquated dog of an operating system strictly due to application support.  If developers would finally and completely jump ship to other more thoughtfully designed operating systems, then Windows would finally wither and die… eventually, this will happen.

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