13 September 2006


A new Iron Maiden album is always a momentous event for me because I've been an unapologetic fan since middle school. When their new CD, "A Matter of Life and Death," came out last week, I went out and got it the day it hit the stores. I'm usually a cautious music buyer, and I'll wait until I've read a couple reviews, listened to a few tracks, and even gotten a personal recommendation before dropping my hard-earned dollars on a new CD. But Iron Maiden is the rare band that I trust enough to run out and buy their albums the day they come out. In fact, I actually prefer to listen to the CD with virgin ears completely unspoilt by anyone else's opinion. There are only a handful of other bands that I cut this kind of slack. (For the record, they're Radiohead, Sigur Ros, and Ozomatli, although the last group is on thin ice if they keep sounding more and more like Santana.)

As for the album itself, I'm happy to say that although the band members are all getting a little long in the tooth, they can still bring the TRUE METAL goods. It has all the things you'd expect from Maiden, including 8+ minute epics, galloping bass lines, and air raid siren vocals. There's even a bonus DVD with a "making of the album" documentary that's not really necessary, but I just watched it this evening and was hanging on its every word. It definitely stands up well alongside their other two "reunion" albums of the 00's. (And if you didn't know that Maiden ever had any sort of reunion, thanks for reading this far.) I'm listening to it now, and it's still bringing a dopey smile to my face after numerous spins. I'm happy there's still new music out there that can do that.

10 September 2006

Still alive

I apologize that my blog activity has been a bit inconsistent lately. It's probably going to be that way for the next month because I've got a ton of work to do. I need to finish all of my lab work before the lab packs up in the middle of October to move to Sweden, and I have a big fellowship application due at the beginning of next month. If I get it, then it will pay for my entire two-year postdoc, so needless to say, I'm spending a lot of time on it. Also, I start teaching on Tuesday. I'm looking forward to it because I always enjoy teaching and it's been a while since I've done it, but I hope I don't short-change the students while I'm madly trying to write a fellowship.

Anyway, I just thought I'd write a quick post to say I'm still alive and to explain why I haven't responded to anyone's emails recently. We're in LA right now for Anne's cousin's wedding. It's the first time I've worn a tie in a long time. I'm looking forward to a couple hours of partyin' and drinkin' to take my mind off of work for a while. This afternoon we went to Venice, which is very close to where we're staying. I don't think it's quite what Anne's mom expected, but it was an interesting cultural experience for her. Well, I'm off to finish getting ready for the wedding. Hope to post again soon....

05 September 2006

Making the switch

Our desktop computer is about eight years old and is still running Windows 98. Because of its age and its size, we've decided that it's not really worth the trouble to schlepp it all the way to Europe, so for the past few months I've been researching getting a new laptop. One of the major deliberations was between getting another PC or making the switch to a Mac. In theory, Macintosh computers have a lot going for them. But I've used Microsoft-compatible computers since my family replaced our Commodore 128. (I still remember what a big deal it was when DOS 6.0 came out.) Anne has also been a Windows user for years, so for both of us, the transition wouldn't be easy. Also, I use a lot of data analysis software that only runs in Windows (or in at least one case, DOS, if you'll believe it). And more importantly, the program that I probably use the most, Microsoft Access, isn't available for Macintosh. But with the new Macs running on Intel chips, it's getting easier to run Windows software on a Mac. I've been peppering all of my Mac-owning friends with questions about being able use Windows on a Mac. Unfortunately, asking someone who owns a Mac about Windows is kind of like asking the kids handing out "Socialist Worker" in Sproul Plaza to explain capitalism. While the fact that people who own Macs are so slavishly devoted to them is a definite selling point, these conversations left me feeling like I wasn't getting the full story.

Well, this past week -- after quite a bit of deliberation -- we got a new computer, and you are now reading the blog of the proud owner of a new MacBook. It was a tough decision because I know I'm setting myself up for some compatibility-related difficulties. Anne was also a bit leary of learning a new operating system. But, being the diligent list-makers that we are, we came up with some pros and cons:

Stability and ease of use of the operating system. Also, the OS is built on top of Unix, which is a pretty geeky thing to get excited about but which will make my life a lot easier with all of the programming I'm proposing to do for my postdoc. Using Unix also means lots of free, open-source software.

Compatibility is less of an issue because the intel processor means you can install and run Windows, either by re-booting into Windows or through an emulator like Parallels. Because the processor is the same, emulators run a lot faster than they did on older Macs.

If we got the computer before the middle of September, I could use a student discount and get free iPod Nano.

The computers just look good. The unfortunate corollary is a tendency to emphasize style over substance. Luckily, I think the Mac manages to do well at both. (I'm a little less convinced about the iPod because I think they're grossly overpriced, but you can't beat the free price we paid for ours.)

No Microsoft Access. I've invested a lot of time and energy into learning this program, and the database I have for my dissertation has a lot of code that would be impossible to port to another db program. This is probably the single biggest thing I deliberated over, and I'm still a little nervous that I won't be able to use Access to the best of its abilities.

General software compatibility issues. Let's face it, it's a Windows world.

Cost. Apple computers cost more than PCs, sometimes quite a bit more. That said, the MacBook is much more competitively priced than it's bigger, badder cousin, the MacBook Pro.

Learning a new operating system.

All told, I think the pros outweighed the cons (obviously, or I'd be typing this on a new Dell). I think that most of the pros were kind of geeky reasons, so it took a little convincing to sway Anne. But I think my enthusiasm eventually won her over. It's still not completely set up -- we don't have internet access because we didn't spring for the USB modem (we just have dial-up at home) and our neighbors are all savvy enough to password protect their wireless networks. (Even the guy whose network is called "NOTYOURINTERNET". OK dude, I get the picture.) In fact, although I typed this entry using TextEdit on our new computer, I still have to transfer it to our other computer to post it to my blog.

As for compatibility, today I just downloaded a beta version of a program called CrossOver Mac that promises to do away with the need for rebooting or running emulators to get Windows by replacing all of the code for Windows system calls with equivalents that run on a Mac. In fact, reading about the development of this program may have been the most significant factor in swaying me to Apple's side. From what I've read, the version for running Windows software on Linux that's been around a while longer works relatively well with some programs, especially MS Office Suite. I'll keep you posted.

So far, I'm pretty excited about the new computer. I've not had much time to play around with it, but the few things I have done have worked out pretty well. It's amazing all of the Windows keyboard shortcuts I took for granted, but I'm starting to learn their Macintosh equivalents. Now that I own a Mac, I'll try not to become one of those smug Mac owners who disdains PC's and the people who use them. I'm relying on my friends (especially those of you who work for Microsoft) to keep me in line so I don't get carried away. I'll let you know how the transition goes.