27 February 2006

Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind

A few nights ago, I watched the movie Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind on DVD. The movie stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Carrey's character, Joel, met and fell in love with Winslet's Clementine, but then Clem dumped Joel. Sounds typical so far? Well, the dumping part is very different. Clem is an impulsive person and doesn't just dump Joel but instead goes to a doctor whose specializes in selectively wiping people's memories. Using the latest computer technology, Dr. Mierzwiak can map out one's brain and remove a particular person, say, an ex-lover. Overnight, Clem doesn't know who Joel is any more. Naturally, Joel wants to take revenge by wiping Clem from his memory too. Near the end of the process, Joel came across some memories too fond to part with and changed his mind. Much of the movie happened in Joel's imagination and the movie timeline is even out of sequence. Luckily, it's just a movie so it wasn't hard to grasp. I still cringe when I think of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. I read it in high school for some English class and absolutely hate it - still do. Different points of view in a jumble of sequences. Back to Eternal Sunshine, supposedly it was done with very little computer special effects. Very nicely done. One of my favorite scene is where Joel and Clem were first seen laying on the frozen Charles River, but then it became something like Grand Central Terminal, and suddenly, as The Erasers (Dr. Mierzwiak's henchmen) got to Clem, she was seen disappearing into the background. I imagine they probably had Winslet on a rug and pulled her away on it. Jim Carrey wasn't his usual eccentric self - definitely not the Jim Carrey you know from Liar, Liar, The Mask, or the Ace Ventura series. The movie basically boils down to the theory that we need all of our experiences, whether they are painful or happy. The different types of experience are what made us unique individuals.

26 February 2006

Intelligence Failure

That goof that I had with T. and my relation to her turned out to be worse. All along I only knew that my wife calls her father a 叔叔 (shu shu in pinyin, for those of you whose web browser or OS cannot handle Unicode Chinese). I knew that he and my father-in-law are not blood brothers, so I assumed that they are cousins. Today, I found out from my wife's second older sister that T.'s father is really my father-in-law's uncle! So technically I'm a nephew to T. We chatted not too long ago and I told her that and she gladly noted that it doesn't matter. I suppose she would not want to be known as a grandaunt to my son.

24 February 2006

Older But Not Wiser

I don't know where my mind was when I wrote the last post. S. is not a niece on my wife's side - she's a cousin! And I don't know where I got the name S. from. It's supposed to be the first initial of the girl's name, except that it should really be T. Doh! Older yes, wiser, no.

To refresh my memory of the trip I took eleven years ago, I dug out a few old albums and came across the displayed photo. Back then in my wife's old village, there was no running water. Instead, water had to be pumped. I recalled having a crave for a cold soda so I got a bucket of cold water from the pump and kept a bottle of the local soda in the bucket. It wasn't quite the same but it was still good.

23 February 2006


A few nights ago I had an online chat with S., a niece on my wife's side. In 1995 or thereabout, my then-girlfriend/future-wife and I visited S.'s parents in the girlfriend's hometown in rural China. S.'s father is a cousin of my wife's father. He inherited the house that my wife's family used to live in after they moved to the U.S. One thing I remembered the most about the visit was my visit to the local post office to mail a letter. I had to cross rice paddies to get to the building. To affix the stamp to the letter, I had to use glue from a bowl on the counter. No pre-moisted or self-adhesive stamps! Fast forward to 2005 and much has changed. Now S. is in her early 20s and working in an office. She has access to the Internet, sends email, and chats online. How things changed in ten years...

Up until recently, I only chat via iChat client software using a free AOL handle. To chat with S., I had to open up an account with MSN Messenger and use Adium. Silly me, at first I thought with Adium and similar multi-protocol client, I would be able to use just my AOL handle. Of course not. Client software like Adium only allows the chat to happen within one program and one still needs to use accounts from the various services.

21 February 2006

Happy Computing

From foreground to background: My PowerBook Aluminum 15", my elder brother's iBook 12", and my second elder sister PowerBook Titanium 12". Not shown are my ancient PowerBook Wall Street 14" and my first-generation iMac.

Some times ago when my sis needed a laptop to eventually replacement her old Win2K desktop, I convinced her to go the Apple way. She has had very little troubles with it. When she visited my house this past weekend, she brought it along so I could show her how to input Vietnamese and also to fax documents. I setup NeoOffice for her to write Vietnamese with - it's a decent clone of MS Office but it excels Office when it comes to input in other languages. At least that's the way it is with MS Word v. X for the Mac.

When my bro finally decided that he needed a laptop computer, naturally I strongly advised him to get a Mac laptop. He went along and hasn't had to ask me many questions. He had been able to figure out a lot of things himself, even if his computing experience so far has been limited to web-surfing and email. While setting up his iBook to wirelessly access my DSL router, I became hook on wireless web-surfing. Shortly later, I got myself the PowerBook Aluminum 15". Ah, the freedom of wireless networking!

18 February 2006

Goldilocks and The Three Office Bears

At this month's group meeting, some of the topics mentioned were: better passwords; locking our computers when we are away; and someone's been eating the food stored in the pantry! This cartoon can be called Goldilocks and The Three Office Bears. At least Goldilock only completed Baby Bear's time-reporting for the month and didn't do anything harmful, like deleting a bunch of accounts using his computer and account.

15 February 2006

Ba'nh Da Lo+.n (Thousand-Layer Cake)

My mom is a great cook and makes many excellent Vietnamese or Chinese dishes and sweets. She has a sweet tooth herself and likes to make her own things. One of her favorite is ba'nh da lo+.n, a kind of desert. As the picture may reveals, there are many layers making up the cake, thus the Chinese name, when transliterated to English, is thousand-layer cake. I supposed five-layer cake or three-layer cake just don't have the same ring, only "thousand" will do. It takes much time to make the cake, as layers are steamed one at a time. The result of putting ingredients together is some sort of liquid. The liquid is poured into a mold and steamed until it's solidified. Next the next layer is poured onto the bottom layer and the whole thing is steamed again, on and on until the mold can no longer take any more layers, or my mom decides there are enough layers. I think it's steaming that's involved here - one thing I haven't learned in life is how to cook. Mom likes to give the cakes to friends and hear praises, not undeserveredly. People have told her that the cake look beautiful, too good to eat, have a nice texture to them. I encouraged her to sell them as special order, but she hasn't agreed to it. It does take lots of time, so to recuperate the time she would have to charge something for it. There would always be someone who would complain that it costs too much, no matter how good or how beautiful it is, and that's enough to discourage my mom.

This particular cake is in the shape of a fish because mom made it for the Lunar New Year. In the Chinese language, "fish" sounds like "having extra" or "having more than enough", or "prosperous".

What do you think?

14 February 2006

It Is Only Love, Can You Handle It?

For those who care, Happy Valentine's Day! I am more inclined to the not-care camp. It's just a day for the florists to rip us guys off. And for us married guys, it makes little difference what happened today.

Atop the earlier cartoon Burn Dragon Burn, this design is made up of 29 Love Links origami heart design by Francis Ow. I've been doing lots of origami heart but this one was particularly difficult, partly because the instruction on Mr. Ow's web site was rather sparse. I managed to figure it out in the end. My colleague Susan had been picking up various colorful flyers from some public area at New York University. We were supposed to make the entire English alphabet by joining origami cubes but that project was never finished. I put them to good use for this "cartoon".

From top to bottom and going left to right, the origami hearts form lowercase i, the plus symbol, lowercase a, and lowercase m - I&AM is our current group name. Some months down the road, they probably change it to something else.

Always the punster, I included the sentence, "It's Only Love, Can You Handle It?", with Love and Handle strategically placed and highlighted.

13 February 2006

Remembering Dad

Five years ago today my father passed away after two years of living with liver cancer. In my early years, I knew him mostly as the one who meted out corporal punishment, usually with a knuckle or two to the head. It was the norm for life in Vietnam back then, maybe even now. As an adult, I got along better with him, but maybe it has to do with the male attitude, I sometimes didn't give him the credits he deserved and thought I could be better than him at certain things. At the age of 39, I realize now that I'm at the same age as my father was when he left Vietnam with us to become boat people in search of a better life. That took lots of courage. Here he was with a family of wife and four children, mostly teenagers and older, with a house and a job, but he just upped and went out into the unknown of the Pacific Ocean. We were the luckier ones who didn't run into Thai pirates and made it to Indonesia eventually. During the months in various refugee camps, Dad labored to get us money for other necessities of life. At one job, he tried out to unload a large bags of rice, but with insufficient food to eat, he couldn't hold on to the bag and it simply fell off his shoulder. At another job, his feet were badly hurt by cement leaking into his boots. In America, he worked at various jobs, as a dishwasher, a busboy, clothes folder, and finally as a taxi driver. He managed to learn some decent English, good enough to earn him some good tips every now and then as a taxi driver.

Dad sure went through much changes. I cannot imagine me doing the same thing - just pack up and re-start life elsewhere. The most change I've done is to change jobs, but even that involves staying in the same field, so it's not that dramatic. I would definitely would not last long if I have to spend ten hours a day in Manhattan traffic five or more days a week - but that's what my Dad did for the many years he was a taxi driver.

I miss you, Dad.

12 February 2006

Igloo 2006

It is a snowy weekend in the Northeast. New York City got something like twelve inches of snow. Here in Brooklyn, I don't know what the measurement is but it sure is a lot. I started shoveling the sidewalk around 1pm, while my son played in the front yard. Around 2, we came inside to have a cup of hot cocoa - we actually shared one bag because Justin needed to cut down on his sugar intake. We came out again around 4pm, in the backyard, just to play. I built Justin a house by carving a cave from a big pile of snow but then dug too deep and made a hole in the house. It took more shoveling to patch the hole and when it was time to go inside, Justin insisted on breaking down the house. All the sweat and effort I put into it. To have my car ready in case of emergency, I unearthed it - really just the left wheels. Maybe it was because of the 4-wheel drive, or maybe because it was my dilligent shoveling of the snow until the tar of the road was seen, I was able to move it out easily. No pain, no gain. Speaking of pain, my arms are now aching from all that shoveling. I guess it's too much work compared to mousing on the computer. I need to exercise more...

11 February 2006

Dragon Burn

To expand my exposure level, I regularly contribute to the web newsletter MetroExpress of the local Mac user group MetroMac. For MetroExpress, I usually draw with pencil on paper, then scan the result in and add speech bubbles and such via Photosphop. I have thought of at some point to draw on the whiteboard at work and take care both of my weekly cartoon and MetroExpress. The chance finally came with this cartoon. For an upcoming edition of MetroExpress, I've written a review of the CD burning software Dragon Burn. I didn't mean to criticize anyone in the office and made the title of one of the book while thinking about a Broadway play. However, my colleagues quickly translated that to mean nepotism, which we do have a lot around the office. Fraternizing, sucking up, kissing @ss, lunch club, you name it.

The MetroMac version is an embellishment of the original one. I erased the spoken words via Photoshop's Blur tool, then added them back in Comic Life Deluxe. It's so much nicer to use Comic Life's speech bubble instead of drawing them by hand in Photoshop. Comic Life can do much for the average hobbyist and even more for an aspiring cartoonist like me. I plan to make more usage of Comic Life...

04 February 2006

California Adventure

I've been back from a trip to sunny Los Angeles to attend a high school friend's wedding. The last time I was in L.A. it was August 1992 or 1993, I cannot recall the year now. It was suffocatingly hot and a cousin of mine drove me around from places to places. I don't recall any of the places other than that we went to the Hearst Castle and boarded Amtrak at the San Bernardino station. This time around I did all the driving and felt the brunt of the brutal L.A. traffic. I took advantage of the HOV lane but sometimes even that is crowded. One drawback with the HOV lane is sometimes you can miss your exit if you fail to notice the sign announcing your exit coming up. On the morning of the wedding day, I almost missed my exit and had to cross the solid line to get out of HOV then traverse four lanes to barely make it to the exit. At least the drivers in L.A. weren't as rude as New Yorkers. I recall being honked or cut off only once the entire week I was there.

The first morning after we arrived, my friend treated us and his family to a fancy brunch at Cima Restaurant inside the Pacific Palms Resort. For $40+ per person the food and service were very good. My son Justin had a milkshake and decided to make a milk moustache out of it. He's such a funny fellow!