Monday, May 30, 2005

Movie Review: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I didn't have high expectations for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (HG2G). When I finally saw it, I loved it immensely. It's so much more enjoyable than the other movies I saw in a theater recently: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (awesome, but too serious), The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (too long and far-fetched), Million Dollar Baby (too serious, too long and way too depressing), Whale Rider (too average). HG2G is the gold standard, AFAIC. Any movie that doesn't poke fun at something every ten minutes or so is too out-of-touch for me to relate to. If you're a screen writer and you can't find at least a dozen things to poke fun at, especially with Life The Way It Is, you can't consider yourself too clever or perceptive, can you?

One concern I had prior to seeing HG2G was that it would leave out important bits. Well, it did, of course, but it didn't seem to matter. One omission is the lovely quip about hyperspace that Ford makes to Arthur in previous versions of HG2G. They've just hitchhiked aboard the Vogon spaceship and are about to leap into hyperspace. Ford, trying to prepare Arhtur for the unpleasantness of hyperspace, says, "It's a bit like being drunk." Arthur asks, "What's so unpleasant about being drunk?" "Go ask a glass of water."

But there were also new things, such as the Point of View Gun.* In one of the best of Trillian's scenes, she wordlessly fires the gun repeatedly at Zaphod. With each blast, he tells her how she feels about dragged throughout the galaxy with the idiot who was responsible for blowing up her planet. But her face conveys her despair more eloquently.

As well, Arthur's daring rescue of Trillian on Vogosphere brought to mind the stark scenes in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, right down to a battle with a beaurocratic behemoth.

Little gems are sprinkled throughout, in some cases literally. The jeweled crabs that Vogons love to smash to bits are wonderfully portrayed as tiny, emotive, sentient critters. When the Heart of Gold pod lands, one delightedly scrambles over to greet (or perhaps be rescued by) whomever might emerge, only to be crushed by the hatch that swings down on top of it.

Compared with the BBC series, the new Trillian and Zaphod characters are far better. NPR's review cleverly compared the half-brained Zaphod, President of the Galaxy, with George W. Bush. It's a great, topical device. And the BBC's Trillian was never developed properly. So the new Trillian is a welcome relief.

The new Arthur has more depth, too. When Tricia tells him she wants Arthur to go with her to Madagascar, you really squirm as you sense Arthur's fear of giving up his comfortable (but banal) existence for the girl of his dreams.

The reviews I've come across praise Alan Rickman's role as Marvin as the real star of the movie. Well, the new Marvin was fine, but I think the BBC Marvin was very well done. And if you don't blink too much, you might get a glimpse of him on the shop floor in Magrathea. Likewise, I didn't see much improvement in the new Ford Prefect.

So go see HG2G if you haven't already. And if you have, see it again!

* The Point of View Gun might have been featured in the HG2G Radio Series.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Universe 1 - Me 0, or How Not to Upgrade a Hard Drive

Back in the good old days of DOS, upgrading to a larger hard drive was a breeze. All you had to do was this:
  1. Physically install the new drive as a slave.
  2. Do FDISK to create one or more partitions.
  3. FORMAT /SYS the primary partition.
  4. FORMAT the extended partitions (if any).
  5. Copy all the files from the old drive to the new.
  6. Physically swap the drives, setting the new one as master.

The word "reinstall" was not in the vernacular. There was no such thing as a registry.

Windows 95 changed all this for the worse. The upgrade procedure became:
  1. Perform a full backup of the hard drive.
  2. Physically install the new drive as a master.
  3. Insert Windows Setup CD and run it.
  4. Install a minimal OS.
  5. Install backup/restore software.
  6. Perform a restore.

Well, okay the number of steps is the same. But the equipment list grew to include backup software and media, and a Windows Setup CD.

Back in the early days, backup software wasn't robust enough to handle the registry. And the backup / restore process can be as much as one hundred times slower than directly copying from one hard drive to another. So folks just started over from scratch, reinstalling all the applications and then copying data files from the old hard drive.

I suspect this inconvenience is by design. It prevents casual software piracy.

Since Windows 95, Microsoft has released Windows NT, Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows 2000, which is what I'm using at work. Microsoft has pointedly ignored all these opportunities of making things right.

By now you've guessed that I'm about to rant about my attempt to upgrade my computer's hard drive. You guessed correctly. I was at zero bytes on C:.

I know a little bit about the administrative tools that come with Windows 2000. Disk Manager has some nice features. It allows you to remove, create and extend partitions. You can reformat drives and change drive letters. You can even mirror drives. With all its capabilities, I was sure I'd be able to upgrade the hard drive without agonizing over a backup / restore procedure.

So I wrote a thirteen step procedure that would safely and quickly move three partitions (including the boot partition) from the current disk to a new disk. It looked great. The IT guy nodded enthusiastically. And it worked flawlessly, up until the very last step.

That's the thing that bothers me about the Universe. When it plays tricks on you, it waits until the last possible moment to steal the cheese from the end of your maze. In my case, everything went exceedingly well until it came time for me to create the mirror. You see, Disk Manager will mirror disks or partitions only for the Server version of Windows 2000. Users of Windows 2000 Professional (of which I am one) who wish to create a mirrored set will instead wail and gnash their teeth.

And the thing is is that practically each step in my procedure required a restart of the computer. In two cases, there's even a complete shutdown and power down to reconfigure the disks. Just imagine the time it took for me to get to step thirteen!

But not all is lost, I convinced myself. (Or maybe the Universe convinced me.) A fall-back plan presented itself. Having successfully moved everything over from the other two partitions, I could delete those partitions and extend the boot partition.

I am soooo clever.

Now to use Disk Manager to extend a partition, you first need to convert the partition from a Basic partition to a Dynamic partition. That's because only Dynamic partitions can be extended. The thing is, though, that once you convert a disk / partition to Dynamic, you can't go back.

But why would I need to go back? I proceeded to convert the disk, clicking OK to a rather ominous message about having to live with whatever consequences might arise from doing the conversion because it can't be undone, and "are you really completely sure you want to convert, because it really can't be undone? I really mean it this time, too." And so on. "Oh give me a break," I retorted, rolling my eyes. I am not a wimp.

Still, I was a bit unnerved by that message. There has to be a reason for the grave tone of the warning. I thought about this while waiting for what I thought would be the final restart. I mean, people get paid a lot of money over at Microsoft. They're not going to waste it by writing a grave warnings unless they're really, really warranted, right?

With the restart complete, I logged back on and breathed a sigh of relief. "There, everything's working," I consoled myself. Now to fire up Disk Manager, extend the partition, and bask in the glow of a larger boot partition. Sigh, life is good. I love being clever. I get such a sense of satisfaction knowing that I can work around every conceivable obsta....

What's this? "Extend Partition" is still grayed out. There must be some mistake! It's a Dynamic partition. It says so. Determined not to let the Universe get the better of me, I opened Disk Manager's help file (for the first time) and felt my neck and spine contort as I read the following paragraph from the section titled "To extend a simple or spanned volume":
  • You can extend a volume only if it contains no file system or it is formatted using NTFS. You cannot extend volumes formatted using FAT or FAT32.
  • You can extend a simple or extended volume only if the volume was created as a dynamic volume. You cannot extend a simple or extended volume that was upgraded from basic to dynamic.
  • You cannot extend a system volume or boot volume.

Arrrrrgh! Are they serious? I cannot extend a boot volume?!? What's the point of providing an option to Extend a Partition if it won't work on a boot volume? That's the only kind of partition you'd need to be able to extend!! Arrrrrgh!

I compose myself before heading over to the IT guy, the guy who assured me that I'd be able to extend the partition. After all, if I strangle him, there won't be anyone to backup / restore my hard drive.

"Um, Andy? It says I can't extend boot partitions." "Uh huh. Well, you could use Partition Magic, as long as it's a Basic disk. Partition Magic doesn't work on Dynamic disks."

I was silent. Silent in the manner of someone who's busy containing an exploding mind.

"Um, Andy?" I was surprised at how calm I sounded. "You told me to convert the disk to Dynamic so I could extend it."

I don't remember his response. I wasn't able to hear anything with all that exploding going on in my head.

So I went back into Disk Manager and asked whether it was even remotely possible to undo that little conversion to a Dynamic partition. It would be okay, right? I did only a few hours ago. The paint isn't even dry yet.

That's the Universe you hear laughing.

Then I confirmed that Partition Magic indeed does not work on Dynamic partitions. Actually, I thought it was nice of the Universe to let me confirm that so quickly. I guess It felt sorry for me and decided against letting Partition Magic start up, offer an "Extend Partition" option, and proceed to wipe out the hard drive. Although it would have been hilarious, I'm sure.

To describe in detail how I finally got more space on the boot partition would be disappointingly anti-climatic. And I don't want to appear too smug, lest the Universe find a bit of cheese that it forgot to steal from my maze. I'll just briefly mention that I was able to move everything over to a new drive with nearly ten times the capacity of the old. I used Norton Ghost to avoid the tedium of backup / restore. The fact that Norton Ghost needed to be installed on C:, which was already filled to capacity, was a nice touch, don't you think?

Well, everything seems to work just fine. Nearly everything. I just can't seem to run the defragment utility. But I'm sure I can work that out some how. After all I'm clever, and I'm not a wimp.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide Personality Test Results

Zaphod Beeblebrox

You are perfect and nothing bad ever happens to you! You dirty, rotten liar. Your brain is obviously only there to keep you from recognizing the boring realities the rest of us call life. Hopefully you have installed a second head; someone has to be your friend.

My test tracked 1 variable How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 11% on dentity
Link: The Hitchhiker's Guide Personality Test written by donquixotic on Ok Cupid