Religious Nutters

Fiends of God

I set my DVR to record a docu-film on HBO entitled Friends of God: A Road Trip, and I watched it last night. Why? Because I caught a few minutes of it a couple of days earlier and was laughing hysterically!

The film follows many evangelical Christians as they corrupt America’s youth. A minority in the USA, they are very outspoken about their beliefs. Most choose to thrust their personal standards and beliefs upon others. Surprised? Neither was I.

In one scene, a Christian “comedian” declares that the USA is the greatest country on earth, and that it is better than all the rest. He declares that Europe sucks. Nice. As if your God would automatically prefer the USA to all the other countries in the world.

In one cringe-worthy scene, Ted Haggard, ex President of the National Association of Evangelicals, declares that he has sex every day, and that his wife climaxes every time. Funny that his wife wasn’t asked the same question. Later, he declares that homosexuality is a sin, as we’ve all heard before from these delusional individuals. Funny that he stepped down from his position following allegations that he had sex with a male prostitute and bought illegal drugs.

In another scene, an old man drives around with a grammatically-incorrect slogan on his red truck promoting belief in Jesus. He agrees that people who don’t believe are “losers”. We also see some evangelist wrestlers in the Christian Wrestling Foundation, who spread the word of God through the art of mock fighting:

“About how many people do you save every time you have an event?”

“Around about ten percent of the people.”

Wow. Just wow.

What really got me though was the brainwashing of the kids. After a children’s seminar with an evangelist from “Answers from Genesis”, a few of the kids are asked what they learned. You can clearly see they are thinking about what they heard over the last hour or so. However, when they are asked if they believe in evolution, they already have the word “no” out of their mouth before the question has even processed in their minds. It’s clearly a canned response, instilled in them by their parents. Indeed, one of the children qualifies his answer with “because my parents told me so”.

And what was this evangelist teaching them?

“Has any human being been around forever?”

“No.”

“Has any scientist been around forever?”

“No.”

“Has God been around forever?”

“Yes!”

“Who should you always trust first: God or a scientist?”

“God!”

The level of thought that must go on in their minds baffles me.

Comcast Banner Ads

What’s wrong with this picture?

Comcast EPG

Notice the banner ad at the bottom? I am currently paying around $150 for Cable TV and high speed Internet, and this week they decided to put adverts on the electronic programme guide (EPG). Not only that, but the EPG used to have five lines of programming, and now there is only space for four! On top of that, when pressing the down arrow to move down the list, it highlights the advert every fifth press!

They tried this back in November last year, and I swiftly complained. The banner ads were removed within a few hours. This time when I complained, I was told that they are unobtrusive and they will not remove them. So, I told them to cancel my entire service. They even went so far to say they couldn’t believe I was cancelling over a banner ad!

Some channels have already started advertise during shows. Fox and NBC have been doing this for a while with banners on the bottom. This is extremely annoying, especially when they squash the programme to make the advert fit, ruining the aspect ratio. One channel (I forget the name, but they are showing reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation) even has adverts with sound during programmes! Un-be-freaking-lievable.

What really shocked me though is that they accepted my cancellation without putting up a fight. My friend Eric recently tried to cancel and they took him to hell and back whilst trying to get rid of it. Where’s my free three months of service?

Resistance: Completed

Last night Scott and I completed Resistance: Fall of Man on the Playstation 3. It was a monumental achievement, and we’d like to thank three Friday nights with no work the day after, Dr Pepper and Pringles.

Resistance: Fall of Man

I have really been enjoying the Playstation 3 since I picked one up in mid December, thanks to Scott’s help! I also bought Ridge Racer 7, and my friend Gavin who works at Neversoft sent me his game, Tony Hawk’s Project 8. All are excellent and really show off the console. I have also been getting better with first person shooters, although I think that keeping up with a veteran Halo player (Amber’s sister) was more down to me knowing exactly what to do with the weapons in Resistance. Lobbing an air-fuel grenade over to my opponent, whilst standing behind an invisible shield and seeing their bullets apparently bounce off me is very satisfying!

Game Controllers

Halo character

Before this year, I had never played a first person shooter on a game console. I mean, how on earth do you aim for the head with a tiny joystick that sticks about 2cm up from the control pad? I find it impossible to get accurate control without a mouse. However, when I played Halo for the first time this year, I realised that accuracy with control pads is not impossible – people were easily picking me off with accurate head shots, again and again.

So, what am I doing wrong? More importantly, how do I get better? Practice? I’m wondering if there was some class I missed somewhere along the line. I have no trouble at all owning all in Ridge Racer, Need For Speed and Gran Turismo, but first person shooters give me so much trouble. In multiplayer battles, I find myself regularly facing other players whilst we both shoot the hell out of each other, but I always die first. The head is such a small target!

I tried searching the web for tips, but to no avail. So, I invite you to post your solutions so I may finish my games. By the way, I have no trouble at all with Call of Duty 3 on the Wii, since it has a “proper” controller – I just aim and fire at the screen!

Supplies!

My supplies arrived for Christmas! From left to right (the previous post might help): mince pies, Monster Munch crisps, Twiglets, Walkers prawn cocktail crisps, Heinz tomato soup, Pot Noodles, Christmas pudding, Boost chocolate bars, Walkers cheese & onion crisps, Walkers salt & vinegar crisps, pasta mix, and popcorn.

English food

English Christmas Traditions

I have been asked many times if we celebrate Christmas in England. I have also been asked if we have dogs, are connected to the Internet, and celebrate Thanksgiving, but that’s a different matter.

In the USA, people typically put up their Christmas trees in November right after Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of the month). In England, without Thanksgiving celebrations, people wait until the first week of December. However, shops in England tend to start their Christmas displays a lot earlier than shops in the USA. It’s common for shops to start selling Christmas items in late September.

Mince Pies are about the size of a cupcake (in England we’d say “fairy cake”) and are made of pastry with a fruit and spice filling. Hundreds of years ago they were made with meat, but the poor couldn’t afford that luxury at Christmas, so they filled them with fruit instead. In the end, the tradition of the poor won out. They taste great warm or cold, and with cream on. We usually use liquid cream rather than squirty cream.

Mince pies

Father Christmas is the same as Santa Claus, a magical person who comes down the chimney of every child’s house and puts presents under the tree. As a kid, I was encouraged to leave Father Christmas a glass of sherry for the ride. I wonder who drank it.

Christmas Pudding is rarely made at home because it is so complex and takes a long time to cook. It is flammable, and people usually douse them with sherry before lighting them on fire.

Christmas pudding

The Pub on Christmas morning: For people who live in small villages, it is a tradition to go to the pub for an hour on Christmas morning, usually from 11am till midday. It’s a way to wish everyone in the village a Merry Christmas. The whole family is welcome, including young children.

Christmas crackers are tubes about the diameter of toilet rolls and contain a small toy, paper crown (which must be worn) and a joke. They also contain a small gunpowder charge, so they snap when pulled! You always pull them with someone else at the dinner table, never yourself, unless you are lonely.

Christmas crackers

Presents are opened on the morning of the 25th, usually right when the family wakes up.

Twiglets: Twiglets are knobbly things that taste like Marmite. If you don’t know what Marmite is, it’s yeast extract. You either love it or hate it. At christmas, it’s common to have a tub of Twiglets on the coffee table, along with other snacks like nuts to crack.

Twiglets

Boxing Day is a holiday on the 26th. No one knows the exact origin of Boxing Day, but it is thought to stem from the rich putting unused food and other items into boxes for donation to the poor the day after Christmas day. They don’t do that any more, but we still get a day off!

Chocolates: In an English living room at Christmas, you will usually find a metal tin of chocolates. Nestle make Quality Streets, and Cadbury’s make Roses. As you know, chocolate is very popular in Europe, and no Christmas is complete without a tin of these. Quality Streets tend to have more toffees, and Roses tend to have more chocolates. I grew up preferring Quality Streets, but switched to Roses a few years ago!

Quality Streets

Roast turkey is served at the dinner table of every English household on Christmas day, except perhaps vegetarian ones. You can even buy meatless turkey substitute if you can’t kill a bird for Christmas.

Independence Day

For the USA’s Independence Day (4th July), we did what most Americans do and set off fireworks, except we had more than most people. We went to Wyoming the weekend before and bought just under $50 of fireworks. My friend Hamzeh bought $200 worth, all large mortars! We went to a friend’s house to set them off, and they had around $400 worth there. This is the before photo – note that this just shows the $400 worth of fireworks and not the ones we bought in Wyoming:

Fireworks

Here is a short video (Quicktime, 1.2MB) of the large mortar fireworks we set off. The video was recompressed with iMovie preserving the original resolution and frame rate.

Also, my prediction was right! Lily Allen made number 1 in the UK top 40 with her second single, “Smile”!

Finally, Italy won the football World Cup today against France! After England dropped out in the quarter-finals, I started supporting Italy, and they made it! I watched it in the Lazy Dog on Pearl Street in Boulder with my friend Hamzeh, an avid Italy supporter.

How to Fix a Laptop (or, how to not fix a laptop but then fix it for real after you break it)

As I mentioned before, I bought a new MacBook Pro recently because the BGA (ball grid array) RAM chips on the graphics card of my old laptop partially desoldered themselves. That left me with a few options; throw it away, buy a new graphics card, or have it repaired. Since I would like to sell it, I ruled out option 1, and options 2 and 3 both cost upwards of $250. That left me with fixing it myself.

Laptop in pieces

After having a look online, I found some people who had been successful in fixing their laptops. The BGA chips becoming desoldered is apparently a fairly common problem. In one success story, a guy used a heat gun and recommended that the work be performed outdoors due to the high temperatures. Having a concrete front porch, and it being a still day, I decided to do just that.

I bought a heat gun from Ace Hardware for $24. It has two temperature settings, 345 degrees C (650 degrees F) and 535 degrees C (1000 degrees F). Figuring that solder can melt anywhere between 200 and 450 degrees C, I decided to try on the lowest setting first. Holding the heat gun 2 inches from the first BGA memory chip, I gave it a blast for 30 seconds with a thick cardboard heat shield protecting the surrounding components. After doing all four chips, I tried the board in the laptop, but the problem was still not fixed. 🙁

So, feeling brave, I gave the first chip a blast on the higher setting. After about 15 seconds, my cardboard heat shield caught fire and a strong gust of wind shook my rig (circuit board placed on a metal cookie sheet). It was enough to dislodge some of the surface mount components on the underside of the chip. Not good at all. I moved my rig into the garage and completed the job on the next three chips.

NVidia 440 GO graphics card

After moving inside, I dug out my soldering iron, with a very clunky tip, and cleaned it the best I could. Somehow, I managed to steady my hand and resolder three resistors and two capacitors, some as small as a poppy seed. I checked the connections with my multimeter, and despite not knowing the resistor values, reading precisely 300 ohms on all of them comforted me.

I powered up my laptop expecting to see white smoke or a blank screen. To my utter disbelief, the damn thing powered on OK! Checking the hardware properties showed my video card was reporting a full 64MB instead of the 32MB before. And, no screen corruption! The big test was playing Half Life 2 though – it ran without a hitch!

So, if you need your laptop fixing, I am not doing that again. Go and find someone else.

Faster Than Your Mum’s Car

What did I blow my money on this weekend? A new Mitsubishi Evolution VIII!

Evo VIII

I got a great deal after talking the garage down $6000 on the price and giving me $100 above the trade-in value for my old Focus. Specs are 0-60 in 4.8s, 1/4 mile in 13.4s at 104mph! I got it in black, of course, and it comes as standard with Recaro racing seats, Brembos all round, all-wheel-drive and 17″ rims. Here are some more pictures.