failing like never before


Debroah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy

I used to pick books by their cover. In the days before smart phones and readily available internet book reviews, my best determinant for a book's quality was the flashiness of the cover and the catchiness of the title. But now with a smart phone always in my pocket, I can instead rely on "expert" reviews for assistance. Some list of highly rated books had Debroah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy near the top, so when a trip to my local library revealed an entire shelf filled with multiple copies of the trilogy, I checked out the lot. My "expert" opinion of the trilogy, here, is mostly spoiler free.

Enter the women...
Diana Bishop is an Oxford educated PhD and Yale history professor, who is highly respected in her field of study and amazingly brilliant. Because her hobbies include rowing, running and yoga, she remains fit and eye-catchingly beautiful despite approaching middle age. She is also, of course, a (super) witch of unusual talent and strength, despite her attempts to forgot her witchy heritage. Bishop is clearly an all around exaggerated and cooler version of author and USC history professor Debroah Harkness (who received her PhD from well respected, but nonetheless uncool cow college, UC Davis).

Enter the vampire...
Matthew Clairmont is (about) 1500 years of age, fabulously wealthy (thanks to hundreds of years worth of accumulated riches), astonishingly brilliant and unnaturally well-educated (since he spent his unnatural lifetime accumulating degrees in various subject areas) and of course, broodingly handsome (because all vampires are HAWT). Clairmont has that bad-boy vibe, with a bloody and messy past (what member of the un-dead doesn't) hidden beneath a gentlemen's veneer. But his best characteristic is his deep love and undying devotion for his one true love, Debroah... I mean, Diana Bishop.

With Earth! Fire! Wind! Water! and Heart!...
The star crossed lovers Bishop and Clairmont must use their combined powers and a little help from their magical and non-magical friends to embark on a twisting adventure of self-preservation and a quest to save the world from evil.

Although the All Souls Trilogy thankfully avoids true Twilight levels of creepiness, it clearly possesses all the right elements to follow in the wake of the very profitable teen vampire novels. One of the most notable similarities being an unrealistic romance between a blandly awesome Mary Sue and her vampire Darcy, that goes from zero to fanfic faster then Hermoine Granger can raise her hand. A little sprinkle of creepy night time voyeurism and a dash of B.O. sniffing is even thrown in for good measure.

Although occasionally fast paced, the trilogy is generally slow moving. Too much time is spent describing the layout of a reading room at an Oxford college and the mechanics of requesting books. In the time it takes to describe Bishop's early morning run I could have just taken my own morning run. Add in numerous flashbacks, time jumps, side plots and ancillary characters, and the story is a lurching, disjointed slog-fest desperately in need of a therapist.

Taking the advice "write what you know" true to heart, Harkness plays to her strengths and litters the trilogy with historical tidbits and by the second book, we start to see quite a bit of historical fiction involving the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. But Harkness overindulges, and excessive in-depth descriptions of all things 16th century England are endless, contributing little to an already dragging plot and only succeed in stoking the enthusiasm of history buffs on the hunt for historical cameos.

All novels suffer deficiencies. A Twilight lover might find it in their heart to ignore the flaws of this trilogy. And make no mistake, this is a series meant to endear itself to the same people who enjoyed Twilight. For someone like me, the moment I started to see Twilight connections my guard was up and every word that followed faced a deeply prejudiced reader. I still finished the trilogy, with a generous helping of speed reading, because I hate to leave a book unfinished. When I turned the last page and everything was tied up in a nice pretty pink bow, and all the heroes were holding hands and singing kumbaya, I breathed a sigh of relief.



Intel FDIV Bug

A few years or so back, I put up a bunch of my high school and early college papers on this blog (they're under the "literature" category). Its a sad state of affairs when looking back my high school papers, that I realized my writing skills were significantly better back in high school. But anyways, heres a paper I wrote for my engineering ethics course. Its not my best work, and it certainly lacks the finish of my old high school stuff, but its passable.

To the Intel Corp. Board of Directors: A Post Mortem Report of the Pentium Flaw

The floating point division flaw in the original Intel Pentium CPU, which resulted in some floating point division operations being calculated improperly, was a result of a few poor engineering decisions and while avoidable, was not condemnable. The subsequent decisions made by Intel executives, to keep the flaw hidden and then to downplay its importance, were however, morally flawed. While Intel executives adhered to a utilitarian ethical framework, they forgot to consider the impact their decisions would have on Intel’s public image. Had Intel executives followed a combination of rights and utilitarian ethics, where the rights of the customer are upheld while the company’s wellbeing is still valued, executives would have reached the correct decision, which was to offer a full “no questions asked” replacement policy at the very first discovery of the flaw.

The Pentium “FDIV Bug”

Given certain types of input data, the floating point division instructions on the original Intel Pentium CPU would generate slightly erroneous results. This result was dubbed by the public as the “FDIV Bug,” as one of the assembly language instructions affected by the bug was the FDIV instruction. Although Intel initially attempted to keep information regarding the flaw hidden, it eventually became public knowledge. The subsequent actions of Intel executives regarding their handling of the flaw were morally questionable and ultimately resulted in great damage being done to Intel’s public image. A different set of ethical frameworks would have allowed Intel executives to have reached the correct decision.
Using the basic Microsoft Windows calculator, a Pentium user could check for the presence of the flaw by performing the following calculation:

(4195835 * 3145727) / 3145727

The expected result of dividing a number by itself is one, so the equation above should yield a result of 4,195,835 but the flawed Pentium Floating Point Unit (FPU) produced a value of 4,195,579; an error of 0.006%. Not all calculations performed by the FDIV instruction on a Pentium CPU were incorrect however. The occurrence and degree of inaccuracy of the floating point division calculations were highly dependent on the input data and specific divide instruction used, and in most cases, the flaw was not apparent at all. According to Intel Corp., the flaw would only be encountered once every 27,000 years under normal use, although other groups have produced significantly different failure rates.
The “FDIV Bug” did not affect Intel CPUs predating the Pentium, as the flaw was a defect in a new algorithm that was intended to provide improved floating point performance over the Intel 486 (the predecessor to the Pentium). The Pentium used a new radix 4 SRT algorithm (named after its creators Sweeney, Robertson, and Tocher) in its floating point division operations, which required the use of a lookup table to improve calculation speed (Intel Corp. Section 4). This lookup table was generated prior to assembly and then loaded into a hardware Programmable Lookup Array (PLA) on the Pentium chip. However, the script which downloaded the lookup table into the PLAs had a bug in it that caused some lookup table entries to be omitted from the PLAs. Consequently, floating point division instructions that required the missing entries from the lookup table would produce erroneous values. This flaw has since been fixed and the “FDIV Bug” is no longer apparent in newer Intel CPUs.

The Pentium flaw should have been easily discoverable in early testing of the CPU, but there was also a mistake in Intel’s proofs for the Pentium FPU. Intel engineers attempted to simplify testing, and assumed that the sign (“+” or “-“) of a number doesn’t enter into division operations except in the last step. Thus, the proof for the Pentium only checked half of the PLA, and assumed (incorrectly) that the other half of the PLA was simply the mirror image of what was checked (Price P. 2). Unfortunately, the untested half of the PLA contained the missing entries. The two easily discoverable flaws, one in the PLA loading script and the other in the PLA proof, conspired to hide each other from Intel engineers so that the Pentium’s flaw was not discovered until after production of the CPU began.

Events Surrounding the Flaw

Intel Corp. discovered the flaw in the Pentium’s floating point unit through testing, in June of 1994 (after production of the chip), but chose to keep the information private instead of disclosing it to their customers (Markoff). Although Intel modified the design of the Pentium, the modified chips did not begin to reach the market until November of 1994, and the sales of flawed chips were not halted. Dr. Thomas R. Nicely of Lynchburg College also independently discovered the “FDIV Bug” in June of 1994 and attempted to bring it to the attention of Intel Corp. in October of that year, whereupon an Intel representative confirmed the existence of the flaw and then ceased to provide Dr. Nicely with any more information (Nicely). Nicely then proceeded to make the Pentium floating point unit’s flaw known to the public via e-mail, causing news of the Pentium flaw to spread quickly. Concerned Pentium owners who learned of the flaw were told by Intel that the flaw was inconsequential and that no replacement policy was being offered.


Twilight and More

I read all the rest of the Twilight books and even Stephanie Meyer's draft for Midnight Sun. It was like a sickness, I wanted to throw the terrible stuff away but I simply couldn't get over how bad it was. But now after reading more of Meyer's writing, I feel I need to rant again. Once was simply not enough.

Lets start with Meyer's newest Twilight book, Midnight Sun, which is basically just Twilight but written from Edward's perspective. Apparently, realizing just how successful Twilight has become, Meyer's decided the easiest way to make more money and sell some more books was to rewrite the series from a different perspective. That's marketing genius right there, since rabid Twilight fans are probably willing to buy anything that Meyer decides to pull out of her butt right now. I'm not going to tear into Midnight Sun too much since I realize its still only in draft stage right now, but after reading the draft I can predict with high certainty that the book is going to be pretty bad. Seeing Meyer's sickingly stupid story through Edward's eyes doesn't make it any better then seeing it through Bella's eyes; it was a lame story to begin with and Edward's mind isn't much more complex then Bella's.

I simply cannot get over how amazingly stupid and boring Bella is. Throughout the Twilight series, Bella can be characterized by two attributes: her clumsiness, and her love for Edward. In my lifetime, I've had to have stitches on my head three times, once from hitting my head while jumping on my sister's bed, another from running into a gate, and another from slipping and hitting my chin while playing capture-the-flag. So I think I definitely deserve to be classified as clumsy. But Bella takes clumsiness to a whole new level, she hits people in the head with a tennis racquet when she tries to hit a ball, falls off motorcycles, and manages to even trip over her own feet numerous times when walking on perfectly flat surfaces. Meyer's takes great strides to point out just how clumsy Bella is, how needy she is for Edward the Perfect to come and save her and be her guardian angel. When Bella became a vampire, I wondered whether her special mutant superpower was going to her mind shield thing, or super clumsiness. Super clumsiness would be an awesome power if one could control it. Just imagine, that faced with a terrifying foe, Bella attempts a roundhouse punch but instead trips and punches a hole in the ground all the way to the earth's core, sending her opponent sliding to a fiery death. Or when playing vampire baseball, Bella attempts to hit a home run, but instead throws the bat into the pitcher's head and knocks him unconscious (yeah, I know, Edward the Perfect doesn't get concussions), forcing the opposing team to play a human as their pitcher. Disappointingly, Bella's mutant vampire power turned out to be an ability to shield her mind and others from external intrusion.


The Vampires of Twilight

(This could be a little confusing if you haven't read Twilight before, or have no idea what its about.)

I had to see what all the fuss over Twilight was all about, so a few weeks ago, instead of studying, I decided to read Twilight. My literary background isn't exactly amazing, and the fact that I'm an engineering student probably does little to add credence to my literary analysis, but I'm still going to attempt a brief rant against Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.

It seems to me that Stephenie Meyer isn't exactly overflowing with literary prowess, although I will conceded that she is a better writer then me (Face it, who isn't better then me?). Meyer has this thing where she feels she has to insert an awkwardly large number of adjectives into a sentence in order to describe one thing. I don't actually own a copy of the book so I don't have it in front of me and can't quote from it, but I think that anyone who has read the book can understand what I'm talking about. Maybe Meyer was just going for a dark, super-descriptive style, but if that was her goal, then she overshot it by a few hundred yards and ended up with something that reads like a grade schooler's attempt at a "descriptive writing" assignment.

I told a friend that I managed to read through Twilight in about an hour and thirty minutes. He was a little surprised to hear that (and rightly so) and asked me how I managed such a (almost) Herculean feat. The reasons behind my speedy-reading time is two-fold: firstly, I've had a lot of experience speed-reading through books, and secondly, (the big secret) I skipped all the parts where Bella expounded upon Edward's god-like attributes. I realize that Edward is supposed to posses inhuman beauty, and that Bella, as a teenage girl, is of course going to be admiring the physical attributes of her vampire boyfriend, but I think the description's of Edward's hotness are a little much. It seemed to me that every time Edward was mentioned, Bella immediately starts thinking about how beautiful and perfect Edward is (his perfect skin, teeth, scent, muscles, voice, etc.), and I started skipping whole lines of text at a time. Forgive me for not being a teenage girl (or a homosexual teenage boy) , but reading about Edward's god-like proportions brought me pretty close to my retching point, which is why I simply started skipping after I realized the descriptions were never going to stop.


The Parable of the Bicycle

Once upon a time, there was a young lad (read: me) who owned an ingenuous, two-wheeled, mechanical device for rapid human-powered transport. The device, called a bicycle, was in fact quite common in these times and could be purchased for a minimal fee. Now, this lad was dismayed to find one day that his bicycle had been seized by vicious thieves one day whilst he was at school improving his mind, and because the poor boy was loathe to spend his hard earned money it was many years before he obtained another bicycle.

When the lad, now a young man, finally got another bicycle, it was nothing like his shining bicycle of old, but was a rusted cast-off of some rich gentleman. Built of heavy steel, with thick sprockets the size of dinner plates (the big kinds that people use for eating extremely messy foods), and poorly made derailleurs, the bicycle was not the sort of device that a lad of these times would have lusted for. Indeed, most would have deemed the hulking metal mound a waste of time. But nevertheless the young man purchased it for a mere pittance, and labored over the bicycle, cleaning and mending it, making it whole and strong (or rather, as whole and strong as the decrepit bicycle could be). Yet all of his sweat was for naught, for the bicycle scarcely managed to travel two score miles whereupon the front tire was punctured by numerous thorns and the badly made grease-guard was ripped asunder. The young man however, though disappointed, did not lose faith, and yet again he strove to make the bicycle whole. On the bicycle's next trip however, the tire was punctured yet again, the crank-shaft's bearing-cage was crushed, bearings were spilled from the crank assembly, the rear derailleur was knocked askew, and the bicycle was reduced to a rattling, crippled steel beast. And although he made every effort to restore the machine to it's former state, he knew that the bicycle was beyond hope, for it had suffered greatly and was beyond all mortal skills of repair.

Bearing these dark and ill thoughts, he set out in search of another bicycle and happened to chance upon a Trek 820 mountain bicycle. The Trek, much like the young man's previous steel machine, was old and rusted, and happily, also quite inexpensive. He bought quickly bought the Trek, for the old man who sold it knew naught what a treasure it was. For though the Trek was quite dirty and rusted, it's derailleurs were true, the frame was made not of readily available heavy steel but of light-weight chromium-molybdenum steel, and the wheels spun with a lightness and vitality that the young man had never felt before. He took the Trek home and cleaned and adjusted it, until the spokes shone and the brakes were tight. The next day he set out on a great quest.

But not a dozen miles from home, the strangest thing happened; the rear tire made a noise like "WHUNK PHIsssshhhhh" and in the space of five seconds the tire was reduced to the thickness of a sheet of parchment. The young man's heart fell, for not only had his great machine failed him, he was also many miles from home without any form of transport save for his feet. He attempted to use the power of the demon Motorola, (an otherworldly creature capable of facilitating communication across long distances) to call forth assistance, but the demon had grown weary of roaming and lay as though dead. And so, the young man lifted the bicycle with both hands and attempted the journey towards the nearest sanctuary. His step did not falter and his grip upon the Trek's frame did not grow weak, for though the Trek was weighty and refuge far away, his strength was as the strength of ten for his heart was pure.

There's a lesson in this badly written not-quite-parable. It is: you get what you pay for. Paying ten dollars for a bicycle generally means you're going to get a piece of shit (excuse my Klatchian). One must not however, be like my mother, who often confuses price with quality. That is to say, an increase in price does not always mean an increase in product/service qualtiy.

So basically, I have no point. If you've got a problem to that, and feel as though I've just wasted a good one minute of your life, please be sure to direct all comments to /dev/null.

Tagged as: , 3 Comments

Sex and Cookery

I try not to make it a habbit of putting up quotes from books, (makes me feel a bit like Mary from Austen's Pride and Prejudice) but I think this particular tidbit form Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant deserves to be quoted:

Vimes had noticed that sex bore some resemblance to cookery: It fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of complicated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imagination --- but at the end of the day they'd settle quite happily for egg and chips, if it was well done and maybe had a slice of tomato.

Ever since I read The Colour of Magic I've been a great fan of Pratchett and his amazing witt. Indeed, I doubt that any other author would think to compare sex with cooking.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died of a heart attack yesterday, August 3, at the ripe old age of 89. I have only ever read one of his works, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and that was only because it was required reading for one of my classes. I nevertheless came to regard the man as an inspiring writer, and a generally amazing man to have survived so much and yet remained optimistic.

I shall mourn his passing from this world.


AP English Literature

Because I know everyone loves reading my old high school essays, heres another one from my AP English Literature class. I received a nine (out of nine) on this 40-minute timed essay, and was the only student out of 60 to score so high (not that I mean to brag, I realize that my writing skills have grown worse afer high school).

Here's the prompt:

Read the following two poems very carefully, noting that both contain a depiction of a blacksmith. Then, in a well-organized essay, discuss how the relationship of the speaker to the blacksmith affects his attitude toward him. In your essay, you may wish to consider such things as diction, tone, figurative langauge, and style.