All entries for December 2009

December 30, 2009

Avatar – Comparisons …

Spoilers Abound

... with “Aliens”

  • Same Director. This also leads to huge amount of blue-hue’d lighting and darkness in the cinematography.
  • Sigourney Weaver plays a strong female character who mothers (In Avatar note particularly bringing food to Jake Sully and physical contact, especially neck touching) a human that she meets in an alien land. In both cases the human is changed by loss (Sully has lost his legs and brother, Newt her parents). In both cases Weaver’s character objects to some major mistakes, and her criticism is muted by gung-ho militarist men.
  • The Military-Industrial Complex features strongly in the plot.
  • Business interests are represented by a selfish and murderous character. The character is played by an actor better known for comedy roles, portrarying mainly stupid character parts. In both cases the character chews gum whilst plotting in order to demonstrate a lack of care for others.
  • Visually Spectacular.
  • Scored by James Horner.
  • A tough latina marine who dies to the major threat in the film.
  • In both cases a group of humans visit an alien world, and most of them are killed by the aliens, though through faults of their own (stupidity, selfishness or negligence).

... with “Dances with Wolves”

  • The plot is basically the same – the protagonist falls in love with a native tribeswoman after being sent to spy on said tribe, and ends up fighting in order to save the tribe. The love interest leaves an existing relationship. Near the end of the film the protagonist declares himself to be a native, after a process in which the natives accept him.
  • Natives move camp after their main home is destroyed by conflict.
  • US Military provides a major threat.
  • Problems with protagonists leg (Sully is unable to walk, Dunbar is under threat of occupation).
  • Protagonist has considered suicide in the past (Sully mentions it in voice over, it motivates Dunbar’s accidental heroism at the beginning of his story.)
  • Voice over used for narrative exposition.
  • Both overly long.

... with “The War on Terror”

  • Destruction of Home Tree offers visual image reminiscent to the Twin Towers
  • Military conflict started over resources
  • Military attempt ‘Shock and Awe’ tactics
  • No UN Mandate (ok I’m pushing it a bit here)

December 24, 2009

ADSL Connections

Having popped back to my parent’s house for a week or so over the festive period, it struck me that we have terrible internet performance – latency isn’t too bad, but there’s a severe lack of bandwidth. The basic history of our connection is that we were ADSL enabled in 2001 or 2002 and haven’t changed anything since. In other words, we aren’t even on DSL MAX and our exchange won’t be ADSL2 enabled until the end of march at the earliest. I have subsequently changed our internet plan so we will be on the former within a week, and the latter when it arrives, but thats not the interesting thing here – getting our internet to be 3x faster without changing hardware or pricing plans is.

Hardware Background

There are a variety of different phone setups in houses around the UK – most people whose phones have been connected since 1981 and before 2007 are using an NTE5 variant box. This looks like:

This is a master socket, and all your other phones are daisy chained off it. In networking terminology you have a bus network! Usually your connection on these phone networks is mainly dependant on the line between your exchange and the house. Our network however is a spurred connection. We have a small black box outside the house, from which wiring goes to different parts. There is a master socket, but it is a LJU2 Master socket, which looks like:

Ie, like a normal slave phone socket. Its still a master socket, however, since it has a capacitor in, but it doesn’t have any of the conveniences of the NTE5, such as the test socket. Our phone lines are connected like a star network, which has the positive that it doesn’t matter so much about plugging your router into the master socket, because you aren’t daisy chained off of it, but the downside that you are more likely to get local loop interference.

BT Connections

BT try to offer you the faster stable line connection that you can get, they do this by repeatedly reconnecting your DSL line at a lower speed until it stops throwing lots of errors. Once this process had finished for us, our connections speed was down to 640kb. Usually this took 4 reconnection attempts.

Telephone History

An interesting sidenote of the the rollout of telephones in the UK as opposed to other countries is that in addition to the two phone wires in your phone sockets there is also a ring wire. This is only used by pulse dial phones, rather than tone dial phones and is consequently useless if you are using any vaguely recent phone! The fact that this piece of copper wire is sitting there around your house and thats its potentially huge – my parent’s house isn’t particularly large but our telephone wire goes around the outside of the house and all over the place – means that it acts as a massive aerial! Your telephone line, especially if its a spurred design, is picking up a huge amount of interference. This essentially shits on the telephone connection. Its probably not that noticeable for voice calls, but it can cause a lot of errors for ADSL systems and consequently cause reconnection at a reduced speed.


The simple solution is to disconnect the ring wire from all your telephone sockets. If you have a spurred design then you need to do this at every connection, if you’re using an NTE5 then you only need to do it once. There are detailed instructions at the bottom of this page on rewiring.

For our internet it made a huge amount of difference. Having unwired all 4 ring wires our stable connection speed has gone from 640kbit to 1984kbit, more than 3 times faster. When you consider the maximum connection speed at the moment is still only 2mbit and we aren’t that close to our exchange thats pretty good. Because ADSL MAX and ADSL2 are both dependant on signal strength in order to get optimal performance, its likely that the benefit of this operation will be maintained after the changeover and I’ll probably measure this once its installed, I’m inclined to strongly recommend this approach to anyone using ADSL who has a star wiring setup.

December 20, 2009

Five Pieces of Music You should Listen To Over the Festive Season

Its official – Rage Against the Machine owned X-factor. Its an interesting campaign, one that I agree to in principle, but I chose not to buy a copy of Killing in the Name of. Why you ask? Well initially I didn’t expect it to have much success, and didn’t wish to be associated with the failure. As more details emerged I realised that there was a good chance of success, but unfortunately that one would still be giving money to Sony BMG, of whom Simon Cowell is a shareholder (well its technically Sony shares, but anyway). Further more Killing in the Name of is one of the world’s most overplayed songs. RATM have loads of great songs, especially surprising for a band with only 3 original albums, but its usually Killing that gets played.

Most fundamentally though – this battle has re-invigorated the singles charts – charts who I very disagree with the premise of. I don’t want to use popularity as an excuse to promote already popular songs. I generally don’t enjoy most of the music in them. By ‘beating them at their own game’ people have made a point, but its validated the idea of the christmas number one as being meaningful in the process. For all my dislike of Xfactor – they’ve made the Christmas number a really boring race – something I can avoid taking an interest in, something I can more easily dismiss. And this is before we get onto the inherent heresy that singles are. The best albums comprise no mere set of songs, they are interwoven thematically and sometimes musically.

Analysis aside, there’s quite a few pieces of music that I think in many ways are worthy of listening to, but don’t get enough discussion or playtime. Here we go …

1. Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts
An innovative album from the late 90s, trying to maintain a fundamentally Punk ethos, whilst altering the audio aesthetic fundamentally. The band’s left wing ideology is espoused strongly, furthering the idea that this album is revolutionary, rather than evolutionary.

You could also listen to: The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman. An album that takes a similar approach and is an early exampel of the Free Jazz movement. Lonely Woman is a particular favourite of mine.

2. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Slightly overshadowed in many eyes by his other by 1959 release, the pretentiously titled, “The birth of the cool”, Kind of Blue represents a pinacle of jazz achievement to me. An attempt to move away from the more rigid rules of Bebop without moving into Coleman’s free jazz territory, Kind of Blue positions itself as the archetypal jazz album: bold, and still very smooth. To quote the Fast Show sketch: “niiiice!”

You could also listen to: The birth of the Cool by Miles Davis. Does what it says on the tin.

3. Henryk Gorecki – Symphony No. 3
This symphony has an interesting history – composed in the mid 70s and ignore by people outside of the Polish Avantgarde music circle (which is probably about 3 people), then re-recorded in the early 90s and going on to comparatively widespread success. Compositionally this is a transitional piece, coming from Gorecki’s earlier compositions which are highly dissonant, and his later compositions, that are slower and a lot easier to listen to. Thematically this piece of music is about the separation of mother and children during a time of war – something that particularly resonates with me at Christmas time, since it is nowadays the longest period of time when I see my immediate family.

You could also listen to: Different Trains by Steve Reich. This juxtaposes the train journeys that Steve Reich made visiting his seperated Mother and Father with those that Jews in Europe were making on their way to Concentration Camps. The thing I like to reflect on with this, especially during my journey is that the worst I have to contend with is the poor standard of public transport – whilst my grandparents generation had more important challenges to contend with. Perhaps this is less important to people without Jewish grandparents.

4. At The Gates – Terminal Spirit Disease
Everytime I listen to the “The Swarm” I become convinced its the BEST … melodic death metal track … EVAR. That aside I think this is a strong album, more focussed and simpler than some of At The Gates’ other work it really stands out to me as a straight to business metal album that really gets on with its task at hand.

You could also listen to: Ride the Lightning by Metallica – a classic from the thrash metal era, another straight to business album. And seriously – who doesn’t like Creeping Death?

5. Roy Ayers – Everybody loves the Sunshine
I really wanted something fun for this list – and this fits the bill perfectly. Whilst writing this blog post I’m stuck in the midlands, lying in bed wrapped in a douvet because its the only place warm enough for my liking, with snow outside. I do love the sunshine. I do love it!

You could also listen to: International Thief Thief and Everything Scatter by Fela Kuti. These are both short, so I chose 2 of them! Afrobeat is in a bit of a revival nowadays and why not? Even I want to dance to these rhythms, and I hate dancing. Combined with the jazz and funk infusion. Another one to warm the heart.

Honorable Mentions: Beethoven’s 6th Symphony – I love the first movement, it makes me so happy, Anything By Meshuggah – Polymetric face melting metal.

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