Getting Yourself A New PC

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I've always believed that everyone should have a personal computer. Especially if you're into my line of work, a good PC is really more of an investment than anything else.

An up-to-date personal computer boosts your productivity, it's a repository of all things media, it's an entertainment center, and once hooked to the internet with a decent broadband connection, it's great for research, it opens opportunities for you and connects you with a massive online world.

Personally, I get a new PC every two years: mostly to upgrade on hardware so I could play the latest games, and to expand hard disk space to store more media files. This current machine of mine is still alright, since I could still play games like Bioshock and Call of Duty 4 on it.

But since I'm going to be spending a lot more time in Los Angeles, I figured getting a new PC should be a good idea.

How Do You See Yourself Using Your PC?

When figuring out what kind of PC to get, you have to figure out how exactly you plan to use it.

  1. At the very least, you'll want to use it for basic word processing and office work. Doesn't matter if you're using a Microsoft Office or the open-source Open Office. Whether it's for school-work or for office-work, or both, this is what your PC's going to be all about.
  2. Also, as a minimum, you'll want to equip your PC to be able to go online and connect with the internet. Going online gives you access to a massive online library, and allows you to network with just about anyone in the world.
  3. Your PC will also act as a data storage facility. You'll be using it to store pictures, video and music. If you're big on gadgets (like I am), it means you'll be connecting all your digital toys- your mp3 player, mobile phone, digital camcorders, DLSRs, palms- to your PC.
  4. Your PC can act as a home entertainment system. You'll have combo-drives available (which can read CDs/DVDs). Attached to a kick-ass speaker system, you can have a set-up that can actually rival any home theater system.
  5. Your PC might be built around playing games (like mine). This would mean also getting the best possible video card (for better quality graphics), as well as getting more RAM (for better performance), maybe even better processors.
  6. A lot of people use their PC as a desktop publishing suite- and install the latest graphics editing software on it- Photoshop, CorelDraw, Dreamweaver, etc. You'll need some extra hard disk space to store all your projects in.
  7. Others might take it a step further and use their PCs as a digital audio-video editing suite. This is if you're a serious music or video professional, or if you're into podcasting and new media. Again, you'll need more hard disk space to store all your projects in, or at least a variety of removable storage media.
My New PC

As far as my new PC is concerned, it's going to have to fulfill all the seven roles I've enumerated above. This means it's going to have to be a serious piece of machine, ready to handle just about any task thrown at it short of making an omelette.
  • CPU should be an Intel Core 2 Duo processor
  • System RAM should be about 2 GB
  • Video Card should be 100% Direct X 9.0c compliant with 512 RAM, like an NVIDIA GeForce 7900 or better
  • Sound Card: Sound Blaster X-Fi series, which is optimized for use with Creative Labs EAX Advanced HD 4.0 or 5.0
  • A lot of hard disk space- at least 300 GB of space, more if possible.
  • A CD/DVD drive/burner
  • As many USB ports as possible (at least 4)
You can expect me to look around online for the best possible deals. After I get me a new PC, then I can consider getting myself a new laptop.

Cheers, everyone!


Lessons In Power: Avoid The Unhappy and Unlucky

Truly happy and successful people have a different aura surrounding them- a kind of infectious yet engaging vibe that makes you want to be in their presence and keep soaking up all that positive energy. You find yourself wanting to know more about them and you'd want to hear their stories, because it has such a profound effect on you.

As for the Unfortunate and the Unlucky? Well, without your knowing it, the effect is pretty much the same- you get sucked into their misery and negativity that you sympathize with them at first, and eventually blame the world for your own misfortunes rather than taking ownership of your situation and being proactive about it.

Law # 10 of The 48 Laws of Power tells us just that:

Avoid The Unhappy and Unlucky.
It's a very important law that has no reversal, no exception to it. No good ever comes out of associating with negative people.

There are basically two kinds of Misfortunates:
  1. Those who were brought down by circumstances beyond their control. Like hurricane victims, for example. These people really need our help, and I say go out of your way to help them, if you can.
  2. And then there are those who draw down misery upon themselves. They're not born into misfortune or unhappiness, it's just that by means of their negative view in life, and consequently their by way of their actions, seem to make the wrong choices, associate with the wrong kind of people, or just otherwise move in a path towards their own self-destruction. These people are the kind you have to avoid. Like the plague.
It's really very easy to let emotions or situations get the better of us. After all, it is human nature that makes us easily react and be affected by moods, emotions and the points of view of those within our immediate circle.

Those who are chronically unhappy, unstable and miserable are definitely worth watching out for. You'll recognize them because they portray themselves as victims of circumstance or victims of the actions of others. At first, you'll find it hard to see their misfortune as self-inflicted- after all, these people are trying to draw you into the whole drama that is their life, by gaining your sympathy and trust.

Unfortunately for us, we sometimes realize it until it's too late.

Remember the story of Lola Montez? How in her lifetime, managed to ruin the lives of several promising young men? Alexandre Dujarier. King Ludwig of Bavaria. George Traffold Heald. Pat Hull. Far more than her attraction or her wiles, the emotional attachment that she brings makes men want to help her out, but are instead sucked into her life drama.

Identifying with Lola Montez meant utter disaster. Heck, King Ludwig was a beloved ruler in Bavaria until his continued association with Montez took his country down the path of riots and the grips of civil war.

Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky.

German artist Joseph Karl-Steiler's portrait of Lola Montez in 1847 appears to the right, courtesy of Wikipedia.

How To Deal With The Unlucky and Unfortunate

Even if you've realized it too late, the only way you can deal with the chronically unhappy and unstable individuals is to make the hard decision to cut them off completely.

Helping them will bring you no good; they will only bring themselves down again, and take you down with them if you don't let go early enough. It's the miserable state of mind that constantly blames others and refuses to see an urgent need for change that keeps them at a center of an emotional vortex that sucks out all that's positive and happy.

As for us, we have to remind ourselves the importance of being proactive. Stay true to your beliefs and values, and don't let things weigh you down. Take stock of the situation, take charge of your own life, and always strive to rise above. Bad things happen to us to test our resolve: we can choose to either we pick up the pieces and move forward, or keep wallowing in a pool of misery and self-pity.

Surround yourself with happy and successful people. Draw upon each other's positive energy, and always do something good, or something productive.

Remember this:
You can die from someone else's misery- emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draws misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it in you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. - Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

I've always been a huge fan of
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Lessons In Power is a special feature in my blog, Renzie Baluyut Online, that serves as a personal reminder that you can make the most out of life by looking at it differently, and having a completely proactive state of mind. If you haven't read the book yet, I suggest you get a copy for yourself.

Cheers, everyone!


Choosing a Digital Camcorder

I'm gearing up for a trip to Los Angeles in a few days. I'd like to think that it's going to be mainly about business, but the truth is, I just might actually be spending more time hanging out with my mom and my sister.

Which is all good: I've been to Eagle Rock once before, but I never had the chance to have a good look around, so this time, I'd like to take the time to have fun and check out what Los Angeles has to offer.

So one of the things I'm considering getting myself a new digital camcorder. I suppose now is a good time to get one, as camcorders now are a lot more sophisticated and user-friendly than ever, and that it's also great for new media projects (like if I choose to do more video-blogging or build up my own YouTube channel).

It can be overwhelming at first when searching for a digital camcorder. So many great digital camcorders out there, with so many features, but which one should you get for yourself?

Our goal of course is to be able to sort out through all the useful (and useless stuff) to figure out which digital camcorder best suits your needs. From one person out to find a good personal digital camcorder to another, here are some things you should consider when getting yourself one of these babies:

What Do You Need A Camcorder For?

Lets get some needs assessments out of the way: how do you see yourself using your new digital camcorder for the most part? Apart from taking random footages, do you think you'll be using it for more family projects like weddings and reunions and holidays and stuff? Or maybe you're thinking of going professional some day?

Sorting Through The Spec Sheets

Now that you have a fairly good idea on what you're using your digi-cam for, let's check out what you might expect to see on a regular digital camcorder spec sheet. In fact, Yahoo Tech has a good feature on the topic, which is what we're also featuring here.

When reviewing a digital camera spec sheet, you must pay particular attention to these items:

  • CCDs. Specifically, a 3-CCD camera, or a digi-cam with three charged-coupled devices. No need to get worked up on what it's really all about (but if you want to, you can read more about it here). All you need to know is that a 3-CCD camcorder provides better image quality, but it might be a little pricey. Great to have if you have a little extra cash, but not exactly mandatory.
  • Progressive Scan. A feature that makes a world of difference in picture quality (again, if you want to go technical, you can read more about it here). Digital camcorders with progressive scan are what makes DVD-quality shots possible. Again, great feature to have if it's in your budget.
  • Resolution. Remember, more is better. Some spec sheets list horizontal lines of resolution (say for example, 525 lines), others list the number of pixels (690,000 pixels, for example). When it comes down to comparing two digi-cams with the same features you like, it could come down to picking out which one has more.
  • Optical Zoom. Remember, optical zoom AND digital zoom are two entirely different things, and are usually listed separately on the spec sheet. The optical zoom factor gives you an idea on how well the camera lens actually sees, which should typically be in the 12x-25x range. We'll talk more about digital zoom in a bit.
  • Tape Format. Most digital cameras still make use of MiniDV- which is still a fairly common format. Then again, the newer digicams allow for the use of tape-free solutions: optical disks, hard disk drives and solid-state memory.
  • Batteries. You'll also want to consider battery life, and the cost of getting additional battery packs for your digital camera. Here's a tip- get yourself a digicam that makes use of lithium ion batteries, versus those that use NiMH (or nickel metal hydride) batteries. Lithium ion batts last longer, are easier to maintain, and add to the overall usability of your digital camera.
  • Microphone Connector. Most camcorders have a standard mini-jack connector for an external mic, but the more high-end units have a 3-pin XLR connector (or a balanced audio connector) used by professional-sounding microphones and PA systems. Eventually, you might consider getting yourself specialized microphones to suit your recording needs.
  • Manual Control. Of course, the most modern digital cameras are all automated when it comes to focus and exposure control, but sometimes you'd like to fiddle around with the settings yourself. Control rings around the lens are easier to use than tiny knobs or switches on the side of the camera.
These items on the spec sheet would be great to have, but don't get led on too much by the salesperson pitching these features to you. Not particularly important are:
  • Night vision. There are a number of camcorders that have an infrared mode or a low light mode that allows you to record in total darkness. It's not as useful as you think, unless you're going to be in the habit of exploring haunted houses or shooting nature videos at night.
  • Still photos. Great if you don't want to lug around two cameras. Still, that's what digital still cameras and DLSRs are for.
  • USB port. For digital video capture, you will be relying on FireWire. The USB port is mostly for transferring files into your computer- which you can then edit, store and burn into whatever media you wish. Don't rely on your USB port to capture digital video though.
  • Bluetooth. It's great that Bluetooth allows various gadgets- computers, mobile phones, camcorders- to connect with each other using radio waves instead of cables. But you're practically not going to be using this feature at all for capturing video.
These items are going to be totally useless to you:
  • Special Effects. I don't see any reason for this. If you're really into special effects, then the video editing software on your PC should be more well-equipped to get you what you need.
  • Digital zoom. Remember how we mentioned digital zoom when we talked about optical zoom? Digital zoom numbers (200x, for example) are large, and can be misleadingly appealing. What the digital zoom feature does is crop the picture captured by the CCD and then makes each remaining pixel bigger to fill the screen, resulting in greatly reduced image quality. Test the zoom feature on your digital camcorder, and make sure that you can disable digital zoom.
  • Built-in Light. Again, you're probably going to rely on other external lighting sources when shooting video.
Final Word

A brand new digital camcorder is great to have, and just like any gadget you own, is even better if you know what to look for and what you're going to be using it for.

Don't be carried away by hype and the salesperson's pitch. In fact, take some time to even go online and do some research of your own and check out a few top digital camcorder models, based on how others rate it.

In fact, I'll be doing that myself in a bit. We can even compare notes if you wish.

Pictures from Wikipedia.

Cheers, everyone!


Words of Inspiration from Anna Quindlen

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Here's the thing: I sorta take great pride in the fact that my friends don't spam me at all- no chain letters, or cheesy-cutesy nonsense, or crap forwarded dozens of times. For the simple reason that we ALL hate spam, and we all respect each other not to send junk to everybody else.

So when the occasional email on some random topic comes in, it's usually worth checking out. This afternoon, I got one such email from a good friend of mine (hello, Sasa!) which had the heading:

This read is worth the 5 minutes of stopping your work :)
OK, if she says so. I read on, half-expecting something hilarious. We all love well-crafted bits of wit and humor. As it turns out, it's an inspiring speech made by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Anna Quindlen at the graduation ceremony of an American university where she was awarded an Honorary PhD.

Little background: Anna Quindlen started out as a journalist in the 70's, started out with the New York Post, and eventually worked her way to several positions with The New York Times. By mid-90's, she became a full-time novelist, churning out five best-selling novels (in addition to children's books, and other works of fiction and non-), one of which was the basis for the 1998 Meryl Streep movie One True Thing.

I've always admired novelists and authors- here I am just struggling to carve out a niche for myself, so people who have managed to find their own place as writers and storytellers rank high in my book.

Anyway, instead of sending it to everyone in my inbox, I'd like to share this same speech with everybody else reading this blog. Check it out:
"I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree: there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank accounts but also your soul.

People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is cold comfort on a winter's night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've received your test results and they're not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my work stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the centre of the universe. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I am a good friend to my friends and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cut out. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I would be rotten, at best mediocre, at my job if those other things were not true.

You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. So here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger pay cheque, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze at the seaside, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water, or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a sweet with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an email. Write a letter. Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beer and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough.

It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, and our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the back yard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived."

Soak it up and think about it for a minute.

Cheers, everyone!


What Went Wrong With Speed Racer?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Earlier this week, movie fans have their eyes and ears peeled- to see if Speed Racer can dethrone Iron Man from the top box-office spot.

Well, the results are in: I'm sad to say that it's bad news for Speed Racer- probably the first box-office casualty this summer. Iron Man continues to kick box office ass, making US$180 million alone in domestic receipts in its second week.

As for Speed Racer? It's only made a paltry US$6.1 million on its opening day, with a predicted take of around US$20-25 million for this weekend. And with an estimated US$200+ million to make and market, that's bad news for Warner Brothers indeed.

Even critics are giving the movie adaptation of the late 60's anime a hard time. Let's check out these reviews from Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

"This toxic admixture of computer-generated frenzy and live-action torpor succeeds in being, almost simultaneously, genuinely painful -- the esthetic equivalent of needles in eyeballs -- and weirdly benumbing, like eye candy laced with lidocaine."

A.O. Scott of The New York Times offers this critique:

"The childhood experience the Wachowskis evoke is not the easy delight of lolling in the den watching one cartoon after another, but rather the squirming tedium of sitting in the back seat on an endless family car trip, your cheek taking on the texture of the vinyl seat as some grown-up lectures you on the beauty of the passing scenery."

And then you have this from Kyle Smith of the New York Post:

"This adventurously awful film is awful in many ways at once... It is, like a Ferrari poking across East 42nd Street at rush hour, fast yet slow... Its attention span is measurable in microseconds, yet it runs more than two hours. And it spent a trillion dollars imitating the look of a 10-cent cartoon from the primitive '60s -- artistically, the Cro-Magnon era. I was initially awed by its splendors. But when I'd had my fill, there was still an hour-45 left."

I was marginally curious with what Speed Racer had to offer, but after these bits from the internet, I doubt if I'll actually catch it on the big screen this weekend. Or any other weekend for that matter.

After all that money spent on The Wachowski Brothers and production and marketing, what went horribly wrong? Initially, you might blame marketing for this box-office fiasco. Was it perhaps targeting the wrong demographic?

The Speed Racer cartoon originally came out in 1967 as a Westernized (read: dubbed) anime for the US market. It was a huge back then- there was nothing like it, kids loved it- it was, one of the first successful anime franchises, together with other series like Astro Boy and Gigantor.

Which means, those who actually DO remember the show are probably in their 40's or 50's, maybe some of the 30's as well, if you consider the reruns and syndication in the 1970s.

So naturally, our live-action adaptation of Speed Racer would be best positioned towards a more family-oriented market. From what we have read on Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily,

According to the "Parents and Kids" premium tracking, Speed Racer was first choice among parents and boys aged 7 through 11.

Which means the movie is positioned well for parents who have appreciated and loved the TV run in the 60's and 70's, and kids who are about to see Speed Racer for the first time.

But the movie clocked in at 2 hours and 9 minutes- substantially much longer than the typical kiddie movie runtime of just a little bit over an hour.

And then you have the critics. And all the online buzz. According to the respected Top Critics community on, the consensus about Speed Racer is that it's "overloaded with headache-inducing effects, without a coherent script". Final Tomatometer score? A dismal 27%.

What I read from this is that it's probably not marketing to blame for it at all. Despite their success with The Matrix Trilogy, maybe the Wachowski Brothers came up short on this project. It seems that Warner Brothers gave the two siblings too much control, with horrible results.

Maybe the movie should have been re-written to appeal to a broader group of kids, maybe even teenagers, but it's all too little, too late by now. Next week, another Chronicles of Narnia movie (Prince Caspian) is coming out, and I doubt if Warner Brothers can catch up with more matinee screenings. By then, it's going to be the scrap heap for Speed Racer.


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