Saturday, September 30, 2006

The evolution of religion, in a nushell

I have been rereading Mere Christianity by CS Lewis and come across a couple paragraphs that candidly encapsulate my understanding of how religion has grown up over the millenia:

And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to oeby it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen relgions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, H selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was--that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time... (p.33 in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics)


I've always wondered, "Why did he pick Israel? Why not the whole world?" Lewis responds, "He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God he was." God knows our minds and our hearts. He knows that it takes centuries to hammer in any sort of understanding of such an unfathomable and complex being as himself. And he knows that even with this understanding, our hearts can flit away with the calling of any idol that comes our way. He chose Israel so that he could focus his energies on them, planting in them a seed of himself that would one day grow to reach the world. He was making himself known, first through conscience, then through dreams, and finally through people--a people, before reaching all people. I suppose that is one reason that Jesus came: in bones and flesh, he grew up as a Jew to confront the world with his divinity. In Jesus we finally see that God is as real as man, and he is Lord of all mankind.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

David's Thoroughly Untechnical Review: Princeton Graphics VL2108W

Pun plug: Don't let D-TUR (David's Thoroughly Untechnical Review), this new series, deter you from reading.





I've been on the lookout for a 20" flat panel monitor for about a year now. An opportunity presented itself this weekend as I strolled the streets of Costco.

Saving the best for last, I dropped by the electronics section in the Costco warehouse just before heading to the nearby cash registers. As I came to the monitors section, I spied a mini tower of boxes with the display above them: "299.99 - 50 = 249.99." A dream come true. I had been eying a Dell 20" widescreen selling for $371 at its cheapest, while this monitor, a Princeton VL2108W widescreen, marketed itself at over a $120 less. The quality looked decent from a cursory glance, and after a few deliberations, I decided to take it.

Once at home, I got to look up reviews on it. I couldn't find any. The name Princeton sounded familiar--"And I'm not just thinking about the college, right?" I told myself--but for some reason I could find few reviews on any Princeton Graphics monitor. Oh well, the price was right. [UPDATE: ...or not quite. I've realized that while the monitor design is modern and large, its clarity resembles that of monitors from half a decade ago. I'm planning to return the monitor...but I'm glad that in the meantime I'm able to provide this review.] So I set it up, and now I'm determined to offer my own review for all the Costco shoppers after me.

Summary

The monitor works. It's big. It's bright. It successfully displays pixels where the computer commands it. It just isn't sharp. (I know it's not a Sharp, but it's also not sharp.)

Technical environment

I attached the Princeton Graphics VL2108W (in which, as I later learned, "VL" stands for "Value Line") 20" widescreen, 8ms monitor to a Dell Inspiron 700m laptop running Windows XP SP2 with a 12" display and an Intel 855 GME graphics card, via an analog connection.

Setup

Setup was smooth. The only confusion was that the box boasted that it came with a DVI cable for digital input, but didn't specify whether it also came with an analog input. It turned out to come with both, which was a plus in the end. No drivers to install, just a few cords to attach, and all was well.

Resolving the resolution

The monitor manual says that it's capable of an "Ergo" resolution of 1680x1050. I'm not sure what Ergo is, but whatever the case, my laptop didn't display it. Instead, the Intel 855GME graphics card output an extended desktop at a variety of other widescreen resolutions. 1280x800 produced a screen that mimicked the laptop resolution itself--but much larger, of course, spread out over the 20" area compared with the laptop's 12" screen. The next closest widescreen resolution was 1920x1200. This greatly compressed the desktop so that I could fit many more, larger windows into the same physical area.

The problem was sharpness. The difference between clarity on the laptop and the new monitor was dramatic. While from a distance the Princeton monitor looks sharp, difficulty comes with reading text. Lines don't seem to just be lines, but different shades of lines bunched together. I haven't gotten a headache reading from the screen, but it simply isn't quite as pretty as what I'm used to from my parents' Dell 2005FPW flat panel.

Upgrading the Intel 855 GME graphics controller

In an attempt to achieve the "Ergo"--ergonomic, I suppose--resolution, I tried updating the driver in the hope that a new version would support the resolution. The problem with resolution could lie in several places: a) The graphics card doesn't support that resolution, b) the monitor doesn't support the resolution, c) the monitor isn't properly passing EDID information to indicate that it supports the resolution. I knew that (b) didn't apply here, per monitor specifications. For (a), the Intel site wasn't particularly clear about which which resolutions the 855 GME card supported, especially for a secondary display. Evidently the resolution info wasn't passed in (c), unless the graphics card refused to display it.

I tried a utility called PowerStrip that can apparently fool the graphics card into displaying resolutions that it cannot otherwise handle. I successfully added 1680x1050 as an available resolution. Once I unchecked the box, "Hide modes that this monitor cannot display correctly," I could switch to the Windows display settings to the new resolution. The monitor even displayed it as the new mode, but the picture appeared distorted, as if it weren't in widescreen resolution. My hypothesis is that it was actually in 1400x1050 mode, the numerically closest resolution and one natively supported by the graphics card, and that the graphics card simply doesn't support the Ergo resolution.

Applications




Nonetheless, I appreciate the extra desktop real estate. One advantage was splitting screens between operation systems. I mentioned in a previous article my experiences installing Fedora Core 5 Linux in VMware Server on my laptop. I tried various combinations of Fedora Core 5 Linux running on VMware on the two screens. Using the laptop screen as the primary display, VMware could take over the full laptop screen, while Windows sat neatly on the secondary, flat panel. The trouble was that the mouse can't migrate from one screen to the other without my first exiting full-screen VMware mode. Alternatively, I expanded the Fedora Core resolution and placed it squarely in the 20" screen--with the screen's bigness, I found no need to make the VMware full screen to maximize the desktop space. And now I could migrate smoothly from Linux in VMware to Windows and back.

Best of all, I found that text displayed within Linux was clearer than that within the corresponding text in Windows (see above for the side-by-side shot of DistroWatch in Konqueror within Linux and Firefox within Windows). Perhaps part of the clarity problem could be resolved merely through choice of font.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Glimpse of Grad Life

Well, at least the more relaxing parts of grad life.

Bumps on a log. Our umbrella grad organization, PIBS (Programs in Biological Science), took us on a one day retreat to Angel Island, which turned out to be the only sunny site in the city that day. On a hike we took "the one less traveled by," a road that led us to this log and other obstacles. Not to be beaten, we mounted the log and took a photo op. Featured here are Doris (fellow MSTP), someone from Tetrad, and Sandy (Neuroscience classmate).

A shot from the top of the mountain. We're using Sandy's camera, so here she is again, joined by another Neuro classmate, Mike.

A couple weeks later, we shipped out to Asilomar near Monterey for the annual UCSF Neuro Retreat. As I walked back from dinner, the last of the sunset wound its way into the sea as my camera caught one last glimpse. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 01, 2006

Lab

My new home:

http://www.ucsf.edu/jan/CurrentPersonnel.html

(scroll down to the bottom of the "Function Group"...one day, I'll have a picture).