30 September 2006

Electronics Recycling

It's a good day to be a recycler. I dropped off a few things at the Electronics Rcycling event for Brooklyn, Fall 2006. The location, just inside the southwest entrance of Prospect Park, was not as good as the last time I participated at such event. At that time, it was some dump in the middle of nowhere, which translated to plenty of maneuver room for the cars that came for the drop-off. I suppose they have to alternate the sites to give people without cars a chance to lug their old computers, on foot, to the site. Luckily, there were a few policemen directing traffic so it wasn't so bad. I got there early, around 8:15am, so the line of cars waiting to get into the park wasn't so bad. I imagine the line would be longer later in the day.

I dropped off two printers, a monitor, a flatbed scanner, a Syquest external drive, a keyboard, and two empty CPU cases (already cannibalized either by their last owners or by passerbys. Oh, I forgot yet another CPU and a TV that I picked up off the street on my way to the event. Altogether, none of the stuff were mine - they were all rescued off the street in my neighborhood at one time or another. Well, the Syquest drive was given to me by a friend but I never made use of it. In today's GB hard drive as standard, a 100+ MB external drive is pretty much useless. Did I mention that the Syquest drive was SCSI? It may be a good piece in a museum somewhere, but I simpy have no room for it, small as it was. Here's hoping all the computer stuff will be put to good use, either as scrap metal or spare parts for other machines, or at least given proper burial somewhere so their harmful chemical won't get into the water supply. I knew there was a limit of five items per vehicle but forged ahead with my 10+ pieces anyway. Luckily, the volunteers/staff for the event gladly took everything off my car without questioning.

29 September 2006


Today was the second time I took my son and his cousin to Chinatown by subway for music lesson. They were scheduled to be there at 4pm so we had to ride the train with high school kids just dismissed from school for the day. I made the mistake of riding the last car on the train and what eyesores I came across! The first eyesore was some white boy resting his feet on the pole in front of him. My two kids grabbed the pole and their little hands were right at his feet's level, but he didn't move an inch. Nearby, two black girls each took up two seats, stretching their legs or curling up their knees and wrapping their hands around the kneecaps. Then of course there were other kids horseplay loudly at the very end of the car. They would run back and forth along the length of the car, too. My two kids probably don't get exposed to such shameful public behavior and kept staring at those "kids". I had to tell in Chinese not to look at them. In the center of the train there was a white man in sunglasses wearing a jacket that appeared to show an NYPD badge. I was not sure if he was from the police department allocated to keep an eye on these "kids", or just some security guard on his way home. All the time I was worried that one "kid" would come over to harass us or worse. What would I do? There's no way I could fight them off, but then there's no telling how far they would go. In my mind, these so-called kids were probably troublemakers in school, who went to school just to pick up "kids" from the other sex, or to sell drugs, and carry no notebooks or other items related to school. They would do anything for a laugh or just because some other idiot dared them to. With their youthful strength, strength in number, and lack of a balanced mind to think of the future, they don't need weapons to inflict bodily damages. One name kept surfacing in my mind - Bernhard Goetz. In 1984, Goetz, a white man, became known as the Subway Vigilante after he shot four black young men who were going to rob him. Initially, the young men claimed they were merely panhandling. Well, if they really were panhandling by surrounding a lone white man, then what they got was the price for being stupid. It's worthwhile to note that the only young man who didn't commit other crimes after the Bernie incident was the one that was paralyzed during the incident.

I once was in the same subway car with a bunch of black men and one unlucky Indian man. I cannot recall the date, but I think it was in the 1990s. I was riding the N or R train and I first knew of the incident when at the 49th Street Station the black men got off the train and there was an Indian man with content from his pants scattered all over the bench. Only then I realized minutes earlier the black men were gathered at the same spot. They probably surrounded him with whatever excuse, made him empty out his pockets, and took from him whatever they deemed valuable. It was probably 9 or 10 at night and that particular subway car didn't have that many people. There would be at most five passengers plus the group of muggers. I recall exchanging glances with the Indian man after the incident and expressing my surprise that it al happened so quickly. I don't really know if I would do anything differently if I knew about the mugging. I could have been the victim. One thing that made me remember the incident was that at the next stop, 57th Street, the mugging victim pulled the emergency brake to get the conductor's attention. Of course that meant the train was held in the station for an additional amount of time.

Next week I'll have to ride in the first car of the train. It is not good to be mugged and it's not any better if, and it's a very big IF, the muggers get hurt in the incident. Better to steer clear of the potential troubles...

22 September 2006

Musical Prodigy?

Musical prodigy, or not? Today J had his first music lesson. Naturally, the instrument of choice was the Chinese zither, or gu-zheng in Chinese, or simply zheng for short. It's Mommy's favorite instrument so she wants him to follow in her footstep. For a first day, he did OK. He got to put on the nails, sort like picks for guitars. They look like claws so J made this menacing pose. At the end of the 30+ minute session, he said he couldn't wait to go home to practice. Let's see how long his newfounded musical enthusiasm will last. Personally, I can't bear the thought of trekking to Chinatown every Friday for J's music lesson. I pick him up from school at 2:30 and his music class is scheduled for 4, so I only have a 1.5-hour window of operation. It won't be just J, but his cousin Ja will also be regularly going with me to Chinatown. It's impossible to find a parking spot in Chinatown at 4 in the day, so I will have to take the subway. Also at that time one would find lots of high school students on the train. They are such eyesores, what with their baggy clothes, their loudness, horsing around, etc. Maybe I'm overreacting and that the kids, both of them, will soon lose interest and simply refuse to go to music class. Or maybe they will go on to become famous musician years from now and today I just witnessed their humble beginning without realizing it.

On a side note, this morning I ran the 2K in a counter-clockwise path. I like to conform to standards. That's how it's done on the tracks and how most people I came across at the park move. It probably makes no difference really, as at that time there are very few people out walking or running, so it's not like if I keep up my clockwise path I would bump into others. Regardless, 2K CCW it will be from today on.

18 September 2006

Blogger Tip #3

As I keep up with my new jogging schedule, I also better maintain this blog. It helps to have an ongoing topic to discuss, but I'll be sure to change the subject every now and then. I already did that, really. While I do mention at the start my latest run, the bigger topic has more words devoted to it.

I again did my 2K this morning. I didn't expect the new exercise regiment to be so effective so soon, but I am happy to report that I had no muscle ache in the legs yesterday, even though I ran a round a bit in the morning. Compared to the previous Sunday, it was a big difference. I believe the ache lasted into Monday morning. Two kilometers a day sure does wonder.

Let's get back to my broken series on Blogger tip. Although a blog is supposed to be a free-flow train of thought thing, you should take advantage of Blogger's spell checker. The typical web site may ooze with misspelling but don't be a typical web site. Misspelled words sometimes change the flow of the discussion. The reader would be puzzled over the meaning of the sentence and if he cannot see the misspelling he may miss the issue altogether. To use the spell checker, click on the ABC icon that has a check mark under it. If there are certain slang words or acronyms you like to use a lot, tell the spell checker to learn it so it won't flag the words in the future. Alternatively, tell it to Ignore All. If you set your web browser to suppress pop-ups, be sure to set the browser's preferences to allow the spellchecker to pop-up. You can also visually spell check the blog entry yourself by clicking on the Preview link to see it as it's published. Sometimes just looking at the same thing from a different angle can reveal some egregious mistakes. As Yoda may have said, "Use the spell checker, Luke!"

17 September 2006

Apocalypse Now!

I didn't need to do my 2K early in the morning today, both because I stayed up late yesterday and because I knew I would most likely spend the morning at the park with my son and his cousins etc. I devised a game in which I would do some running and get them involved. I had them in a relay race, but the 4 kids against me. I would run from kid to kid, pretending to be after the boxed drink used as the relay stick, and the kid would run to the next kid. They liked it and weren't too tired, as they only ran short distance. I ran for about 15 minutes like that and was all sweaty at the end, so it probably made up for the 2K.

I spent maybe an hour at home to finish watching Apocalypse Now! on video tape. I knew about Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie being called Helicopter Music because of Apocalypse Now! but I thought it was like a theme song for the movie. Now I know that the music was actually played in the movie, as part of Kilroy's psychological warfare against the Vietnamese Communist. The scene where Captain Willard emerged from the water with his face covered in mud, I saw a clip of it back when I first got my first personal computer, the Amiga 1000. There was a demo disk for a painting program called Digi-Paint and to show off the Amiga's multitasking capability along with Digi-Paint's animation power, the demo showed little clips of movies, all happening together on the same screen. In the actual movie, the scene seemed to come with little fanfare. No dramatic music, nothing. I probably missed some philosophical angles in the movie, but the ending seemed a bit strange. So this Kurtz guy knew Willard came to kill him, locked him up, then freed him, then somehow told Willard that he wanted to die, and Willard didn't have too much troubles doing that. Then Kurtz's followers seemed to just drop their weapons and let a blood-covered Willard pass through them, taking Lance back with him. It's a rather strange movie. I'm sure if I read about it on IMDB.com or elsewhere it would make more sense, but this is just my first reaction.

16 September 2006

Discovery School's Online PuzzleMaker

I didn't do my 2K this morning because I wanted to be at work early. The train schedule on the weekend is horrible. Instead of two train lines, one going between 33rd Street and Journal Square while the other serves 33rd Street and Hoboken, the two lines are combined, running in a triangle between the three stations. The wait seems like forever, then when the train gets to Hoboken it would sit there for maybe ten minutes. One time it took me two hours to get to work - left the house at 8am and got to work at 10. Today it was an hour and a half. Other than the horrible train service, working on Saturday has the lovely perk of not being interrupted by my clients, who normally work Monday to Friday.

To help my son review his vocabulary words, I looked for computer programs that make word search puzzles. There was some piece that would do a lot more than word search puzzles, but then I came across Discovery School's Puzzlemaker, to be used online and free of charge. There's a downloadable version too but it's not Mac-compatible. I hope my son will enjoy playing them as I enjoy making them.

With my colleague Purple's birthday just a few days ago, I thought I would make this week's "toon" a word search puzzle instead of the usual doodling. She loves the color purple (that's why she's nicknamed "Purple" in Qaptain Qwerty's world) so the puzzle's title is All Things Purple. I came up with ten or so items purple-related while Purple and Teary contributed the rest. I handprinted the puzzle on the white board with a fine-tipped dry erase marker. The "picture" came out very light, probably wouldn't show if captured with a camera, so I printed the Word document to PDF at work then convert the PDF to JPG on the Mac. Only after all was done that I found out some of the phrases are not real. What's a purple duct tape? My friend Purple said it's duct tape that's purple. D'oh! I suppose we can throw in purple house, purple purse, and so on, anything that can be made purple! But that's not what I meant. It should have been just figure of speech, idioms, song or movie titles, etc. Not things that just happened to be painted purple or manufactured to be purple.

15 September 2006

Life Without Power Steering

It didn't rain at 6am so I had my 2K run - third time is a charm. Good thing I went ahead with it at 6 even though the streets were wet and the sky was dark. I was tempted to put it off to later in the day, since I am off on Fridays. But then it rained hard around 8 and I didn't have much time for myself for the rest of the day anyway. Consistency is an important element in a training program.

My minivan was in the shop today because the transmission belt was broken. I was in a PathMark's when steering became a major effort. I was able to make it home, straining at the steering wheel every time I made a 90-degree turn. Fixing it cost me $260. It's probably time to get a new vehicle. The minivan is a 1994 Plymouth Voyager and I'm the second owner, but it has gone through many changes of parts already. One time it was the water pump - my sister-in-law noticed the engine temperature rising really quick on the dashboard indicator. A few years ago, every summer, when the air conditioner was needed, I would have to get Freon re-added. At the car shop I frequent they couldn't find the leak, and the A/C would work for a while then by the next summer, it was another $100 or so to pump in more juice. At another shop, they took apart panels front and back, left and right, and finally got the A/C to work right, for I think $1,000. Then there's that incident a few Halloweens ago - some jerk who needed coins smashed both middle windows. He probably smashed one to get in, found too few coins so he smashed the other one to vent his anger. I know the transmission belt was replaced some time ago but not when. The manager at my favorite car shop said it was a year and a half ago.

14 September 2006

Cornering the Elusive LastLogin Date

It rained this morning so I didn't have my 2K jog. I could have walked on the treadmill, but it's an old thing with no digital readout so I wouldn't know how much distance I cover. Maybe I need a pedometer after all...

In my line of work as Network Account Administrator, I often need to know if a Windows NT or ActiveDirectory account is in use. As results of many mergers, the network that I manage consists of many smaller ones. Slowly and surely, users and resources from the smaller networks are brought into the uniform network, but my daily work still involves handling accounts on different networks. Half of the time, the users don't know what network they are on, yet they call to report problems. "My account is locked", "I need access to this folder", yada yada yada. Lots of time, when I go to each network to find the troublesome account, the account name would be in more than one network. By finding out which account was used recently, I can determine that's the account that needs to be fixed. For example, Joe Block's account, BlockHead, is supposedly locked out, and I find such accounts in the two networks, NetHead1 and WebFooted2. The last login date for the account in NetHead1 goes back to 2004 while that for the WebFooted2 account is today. Unlock the account in Web and we have a happy customer.

One deficiency with Windows networks is that the last login dates for user accounts are
not centralized. Each time someone logs onto the network, he is authenticated to the nearest servers (domain controller or DC for short). Depending on network traffic, the server he authenticates to is not always the same one. On the different DCs he authenticated to would be found an entry recording the last time he connects to the network, or LastLogin Date. The feeble NET USER command only reports the LastLogin Date from some DC. DameWare NT Utilities has a way to query all DCs for the last login date for a given username. However, I often need to find out the LastLogin Date for a large number of users and up to now I haven't found a way to script the task. I know it is necessary to collect the data from each DC then sort the list. I have dappled with binding to LDAP providers and able to retrieve lots of useful info for any given number of accounts, but the LastLogin Date variable remains elusive.

In KiXtart, I've been using GetObject("WinNT://domain1/user1") to extract all kinds of info for a given user, user1, from a given domain, domain1. But how would I query a particular DC? Time and again, I searched with Google using many combination of keywords, but have yet found anything. Then today I came across a User-Defined Function (UDF) on a KiXtart site. It's as simple as GetObject("WinNT://Domain1/DC1/user1, user") !

The next challenge is to get a list of all available DCs and pass the list to GetObject(). Then the list of LastLogin Dates would have to be sorted and the latest date identified. I don't like to re-invent the wheel so I already plan to use the NLTest command to grab the list of DCs. When the list of LastLogin Dates becomes available, I would have to first convert the entries into some other formats that can be properly sorted, because the typical LastLogin Date is hh:mm ap mm/dd/yyyy, e.g. 11:16 pm 09/14/2005. I am pretty sure there's a way to convert the whole thing into one lengthy number, such that together they can be easily sorted. For example, let's say 11:16 pm 09/14/2005 is equivalent to 924929421134 while 8:22 am 11/30/1999 is 842424958312, then obviously the first number is greater. Computer programs love to set time to start at some point back in time and reference everything after that with a number, supposedly representing nanoseconds or whatever. Lastly, to sort the list, I'll just use the DOS command SORT, duh. Seasoned programmers probably frown on this practice of using external programs instead of writing one's own subroutines. Well, I'm a Network Account Administrator who write scripts to make his job easier, not a programmer exploring new frontiers. With today's CPUs, my scripts are fast enough for my purpose, no matter if I use external programs. Also, I include all the external programs in my folder structure, so as long as the entire folder is copied together, the script will continue to work.

13 September 2006

Pedometer Not Required

So I thought I can use a pedometer. It's supposed to be some gadget that can measure distance. I went into a Modell's knowing only that. The salesman said it's only good for walking, not for jogging, even though the devices' packaging did mention jogging. Over at Target, there are even more options for pedometers - they not only measure the distance you cover, the calories you burn, heart rate, light the way, play MP3, and so on. All that from hanging on your hip. According to Wikipedia, a pedometer is basically a pendulum. You tell it your standard stride in feet or some unit of distance then it senses your motion and in the end tells you how many strides you have made. I thought it would be more hi-tech than that. Perhaps there's something you can strap onto your sneakers. It won't last too long that way though. For my purpose of knowing how long the block that I run around, a pedometer is overkill. Good ol' Google Earth's measuring tool told me that the block is about 0.6 kilometer or 0.29 mile. In the picture, I measured only half the block. That kind of distance sort of jive with my rough estimate of more than a quarter of a mile, 0.25 mile. In an attempt to go metric, I'll pretend the distance is 0.5 km so that 4 times around the block will be 2 km. It's better to think you can run 2 km but the distance turns out to be 2.5 km, instead of the other way around.

Sans pedometer, I made my 2k this morning. I forgot to set the alarm on my cell phone, but luckily I was wearing a watch, so I got up around 6:15am, instead of 6 sharp. I stretched at the park, to minimize the chance of being interrupted from getting out of the house. Like yesterday morning, I left the house with only a cell phone, some cash, one piece of ID, and the house keys. It's still Brooklyn, early in the morning while most people are still sleeping, so I was prepared for the unfortunate event of being mugged. Hopefully the cash would satisfy the mugger(s). From what I saw the past two mornings, it ain't all that bad. There were four or five elderly Chinese people doing exercise, a few women speed walking around the park, and a bunch of guys waiting for the MTA school to open, so the place wasn't totally deserted.

The U.S. should go metric - it's so easy to go from millimeter to centimeter to meter then kilometer and so on. Multiply by 10s is so easy. Let's see - 12 inches equal one foot, 3 feet goes into a yard, but how many yards does it take to get a mile? Similarly, I find pint, quart, and gallon all pretty confusing. Not to mention the word pint doesn't rhyme with anything.

12 September 2006

The First Mile

I made it. Turned in for the night yesterday at 11:11 pm or so and actually got up at 6 this morning when the cell phone alarm clock kicked off. I stretched and warmed up at home then walked to the park. I made four laps around the park. I used to run on the track of a nearby high school, but the field has long been closed to the public. Insurance restriction or maybe someone just abused the privilege and ruined it for everyone. One lap on the track equals a quarter of a mile, but I am pretty sure around the park is longer than one lap on the track. I should get one of those gadgets to measure distance. As someone with an Engineering education, I should know better how importance it is to quantify. Speaking of which, just last night I checked my weigh and whoa! it was 210 pounds. Where did that extra ten pounds come from?

Here's a Blogger tip which hopefully I myself won't need to use in a while. I am better at staying up late than getting up early, so lots of time I update my blog around midnight. I want to keep the blog like a diary, with daily entries that talk about that day. However, if I publish the blog entry at 12:01 a.m. or later, the date stamp would show the day after's date. The tip is to use Save as Draft as soon as you start writing. Say, I sit down at 11:50 p.m. Once I have a title, I click Save as Draft and my blog entry has the date stamp of that day, not the next day's, mere minutes away. Then I would go back and edit the entry to my heart's content. Of course, going with my new resolution, I shouldn't need to use this tip as I should be sound sleeping before 12 midnight.

11 September 2006

Battle of the Bulge

Autumn weather is mostly here, summer seems to be gone, too short. When the New Year rolled around in January I didn't make any resolutions, but I just made one yesterday. While my son played with his cousins, I ran around the park a few laps. Two small laps within the playground area, one inside the park on the paved path, and once on the sidewalk. It couldn't total more than half-a-mile, yet my leg muscles ached for the rest of the day. And to think back in 1997 I used to run 4 or 5 miles every Saturday. Before that, I even ran two New York City marathons - mind you, I was at the bottom 100s but it was still quite a feat, 26.5-mile long for that matter. Of course every year my waistline keeps expanding and most recently I was quite upset that my wedding band took a long time to come off. Maybe because I just had a long day driving on Canadian roads, but at the time I thought I got fat to the point my fingers grew too big for the band.

So here's an ambitious plan I'll embark upon. I'll try to sleep at 11pm and wake up at 6am to go jogging. Maybe just half-a-mile in the beginning, but slowly work it up. The weather is nice, I no longer have problems with my extra-arched left foot, all I need is a pair of sneakers, what is there to lose, except a few pounds? I already missed my 11pm deadline tonight, but hopefully it'll work better tomorrow night. If I managed to pull it off tomorrow, you'll be sure to hear it at, say 7:30am...

10 September 2006

Blogger Tips and Tricks

I have a knack for exploring every features, hidden or otherwise, of computer programs that I come across, including Blogger. Maybe someday O'Reilly and Co. will come out with a Blogger Hacks book, but here's my own version, starting with something simple but may be overlooked.

So you sit down at your MacBook Pro(yes, in my universe, everyone uses a Mac) and pour your heart out on the topic at hand. You rant and rave for hours but your blog entry isn't yet finished. Suddenly, you lose the connection to the Internet and poof all your passionate prose disappear. For this example, there's nothing for you to do except to pour your heart out again and start all over. However, had you used the Save as Draft blue button next to the orange Publish Post button, at least you would only need to re-write since the last time you used Save as Draft. Seven years ago I worked at a place where typewriters was still in use and email was only being tested. Archaic as they were, with a typewriter whatever you typed was there instantly, there was no need to Save or Print. With the switch to email and computer, every now and then someone would keep typing on and on without saving and then the unthinkable happened. All their hard work went up in the thin air. Nowadays, Microsoft Word, Excel, and other popular software have automatic savings to avoid this costly mistake. Google Mail autosaves whatever you type in Draft every so often, but alas the technology hasn't been integrated into Blogger. So, Denizens of Blogosphere, use Save as Draft and go back to the posts to edit them again and again.

08 September 2006

The Seven Highly Annoying Habits of the New York Drivers

I work Saturdays so I have a day during the week off. Recently, I switched that day to Friday, so today is one of those days that I'm off from work on a weekday. Sundays are errand days with the wife and others, Fridays are errand days with Mother. Today, I drove Mother to the Chinese supermarket, to the Vietnamese bakery, and to Toys R' Us to get some plush toys for my nephews in distant Taiwan. So today was the first day back from the Canadian trip that I came into more contacts with New York drivers, warts and all. It didn't take long for me to be reminded why I hate driving in New York. Here are the Seven Highly Annoying Habits of New York Drivers:

  1. "Gee, someone double-park on the other side of the two-way road, I need to double-park on my side of the road, I guess I'll just double-park not too far from the other guy." Either out of stupidity or insensitivity to other drivers, these drivers double-park on the opposite side of the road, where on the other side someone already double-parked. I am sure they double-park where it's most convenient to them, probably right in front of their house. They either don't know or don't care that with the two double-parked cars, the road suddenly becomes an obstacle course. Cars traveling in opposite direction would have to take turn passing through the narrow valley the two double-parked vehicles have created. Would it really kill them if they just park a few feet away from the other already double-parked cars?
  2. "The light just turned green, better let the driver in front of me know by honking." Do they really have to press the horn the INSTANT the light turns green? Even when the driver in front of me doesn't move when the light turns green because he was busy doing something other than driving, I would count out loud from one to ten before nudging him on with the horn. Too many drivers have no such patience.
  3. In front of my house, between the driveway's entrance and the fire hydrant, there are two parking spaces. There's also a huge tree near the driveway's entrance. Many times people don't want to park close to the tree, probably fearing banging the door against the tree when they get in and out, and would park half-way between the hydrant and the driveway, thereby eating up both parking spaces. My driveway doesn't really accommodate my car so I need to park on the street all the time. These people taking up two spots out of laziness really tick me off. If they don't want to be close to the big tree, then back up a bit and leave the front space for someone else. No, they have to just leave the vehicle eating up two precious spaces. In Downtown Montreal, the parking spaces are actually marked to indicate where cars should fit within. We can sure use such guidance around my neighborhood, assuming people actually heed the call.
  4. "Hey, it's Joe from high school, traveling in my direction, let's park in the middle road and chat." You have a two-way street, one lane each way. Two drivers traveling in opposite directions recognize each other. They stop, in the middle of the road, to chitchat, while others behind them queue up. Since when did the own the road? Adding insult to injury, sometimes it's two police patrol cars. Should you or should you not honk at the nice policemen?
  5. Speaking of the police, do they have a normal horn in their cars or is the only way to audibly attract attention is by honking their powerful siren? I think most policemen cannot resist the urge to abuse their power and do so at every opportunity. That dumb bloke in front of them probably respond quicker to get out of their way if the siren is used, so why not use it? In my mind, that's power abuse and I hate it dearly.
  6. "That dumb pedestrian standing near the Stop sign must be waiting for someone, I'll ignore him and sail through the Stop sign." I learned from driving school that at Stop sign, drivers are supposed to yield to any pedestrian near the intersection. Many drivers I come across have no knowledge of such rule. They would drive up to the intersection, look out for other cars, then if none was seen, sail right through the intersection, pedestrians nearby or not.
  7. "Curse you, pedestrian! Why did you get in my way as I made my rightful right turn on red?" To be fair, this is something I find mostly in New Jersey drivers. I live in Brooklyn but work in NJ and most of times when I cross the big boulevard outside my office, I could have been run over by these Jersey drivers who turn right on red regardless if there are walkers in the walkway. It is OK to turn right on red IF there are no cars going that direction AND no pedestrian crossing your way, stupid!
There are probably more than seven annoying habits of New York drivers. Not necessarily New York drivers, for that matter. I think people change drastically when they get behind the steering wheel. Out of my way, you fools! Driving is a serious privilege but too many people think it's a great way to have fun at others' expense.

04 September 2006

The Outdated Big Apple

One thing I really appreciated during my recent Canadian vacation was credit card acceptance at most, if not all, the parking meters I came across. Surely the areas I visited were touristy so it's possible that only meters in touristy areas were outfitted to take credit cards. In Montreal, I parked in garages or parking lots only so I cannot tell whether the meters were friendly to credit cards. In Quebec, I parked on the street once and while the meters wouldn't take credit cards, at least they took everything from nickels and up. Take that, you NYC quarter-only meters. In Ottawa and Toronto, all the meters I came across gladly took credit card and spit back a little slip that was to be put on the dashboard. In my own Brooklyn neighborhood, only recently that we had this novelty, albeit it's still limited to coins and special parking cards that have to be purchased in advance. If I'm a tourist to NYC, the lack of credit card acceptance for street parking will certainly be a reason not to come back. I read somewhere that the technology was in some test areas of Manhattan.

I didn't get a chance to check out the subway systems in the Canadian cities I visited, but I'm pretty sure they are better than NYC's ancient subway in many ways. Way back in 1993 or so, I visited Hong Kong and even back then its subway stations were temperature-controlled. Here and now in NYC, I dread the trip home waiting for the D train on the lowest level of West Fourth station. I would stand there and beads of sweat would form on my forehead and gently roll down my face then to their final destination on the platform floor... MetroCard sucks because it doesn't suck. I don't know who else competed for the business with the MTA, but I hate swiping MetroCard. The turnstile's card reader should suck the cards in like Washington D.C. and elsewhere. Every now and then, my string of good luck with MetroCard would run out and I would be stuck swiping the card over and over, alternating between fast and slow. If the stupid thing is designed to suck the card in instead of leaving the chance of a speed error to the human rider, such problems would be non-existent.

03 September 2006

Ta ve^` ta ta('m ao ta...

...du` trong du` ddu.c ao nha` va^~n ho+n. That's the Vietnamese equivalent of There is no place like home. After almost nine days driving all over Canada, home is where I want to be and I finally am. Yes, I was at my front door with the porch light without its bulb because it stopped working and I took the bulb away, planning some day to inspect the wiring to see what went wrong. Also at my front door was the wireless doorbell that sometimes worked but not other times. Back to my old rust bucket of a minivan - compared to the rental 2006 Chrysler Town & Country, my 1993 Plymouth Voyager's steering wheel and gas pedal are so stiff. I'm sure I won't be able to tell the difference in a few days.

Some quick observations/notes from my trip, before I forget them all during the daily grind that sure will catch up to me in a few days:

  • On the way to Montreal: Traveling along I-87 north, I noticed many of the roadside display panels were outfitted with solar panels. These panels display useful info like traffic conditions or reminders about drinking and driving, etc. They are in the middle of nowhere but spend all day in the sun so it makes sense to have them run on solar power. They may cost more initially but in the long run, it's good for the environment to use something free like the sun's energy. Kudos to New York State!
  • Montreal: We stayed in the Downtown area. There were many restaurants but none were all Vietnamese. I guess the Vietnamese population isn't that big there. Or perhaps the Vietnamese gather elsewhere and not on Catherine Street. The only full day we were there it rained most of the day. We spent a few hours in the Science Center, then walked to Chinatown, but on the way back we were caught in some big downpour.
  • Quebec: Gotta love those hills in Old Quebec! By the time we set out from the hotel, we caught the last elevator up to the side of the hill, the portion that Highway 404 runs past. On the way back, we had to walk down. It was somewhat scary for the kids in the group, but all was safe and sound. Like Montreal, Quebec had a strong French presence. My three years of high school French didn't prepare me to converse with anyone, but it helped somewhat in reading the signs on the street, although half of time they were in both English and Francais.
  • Ottawa: Nothing to see but the Parliament area. They even cancelled the light show at 9pm and 10pm, then the next morning we found out the last Changing of the Guard was held last week, no more for the rest of the year. Our large group of 14 was snuffed by the waittresses at some famous restaurant called Coaster or something like that. They squeeze us into a corner that fitted maybe ten and wouldn't bother us. We ended up leaving the restaurant and ate at a Vietnamese place on Somerset. There had to be many Vietnamese in Ottawa because the parking meters had Vietnamese instructions, along with the usual English and, not surprisingly, Chinese.
  • Toronto: Fruits, fruits, and more fruits. We spent maybe 500$Can on fresh fruits. I knew all the fruits from my days in Vietnam but my in-law went crazy over them exotic fruits. My favorite is rambutan but ma~ng ca^`u dai (sorry, don't know the English name) is good too. The environmentalist in me quickly noticed that in the Toronto area, "garbage" is supposed to be separated into organic (fruit peels, food leftover, etc) and the usual recyclable (paper, plaster, glass) or real garbage. Don't forget yard waste. I'm sure it's a little pain to adhere to the regulation but that's really helpful to the garbage problem. I suppose the organic stuff are collected to be turned into compost, perhaps sold for cheap or even given away.
In case you are interested, the literal translation of Ta ve^` ta ta('m ao ta, du` trong du` ddu.c ao nha` va^~n ho+n is I come home to bath in my home's pond, whether the water is clear or muddy it's still better. I think way back when the phrase was created, the author, like many Vietnamese of the time, lived on a farm where creature comforts such as indoor plumbing didn't exist. He would wash ( ta('m )himself in some pond or shallow body of water, the Vietnamese word for which is ao. You may have noticed the appearance of the word ta. It stands for a special form of I, as in I am - special meaning it's usually when one talks to oneself or thinks in one's head. Ve^` means return to or come home to, and Ta ve^` means I come home. There is no Vietnamese equivalent for my, his, their, and their possessive ilk. My pond is ao ta, my house is nha` ta, etc. Yup, just take the object and stick the pronoun after it and voila we have possession.

02 September 2006

Last Day of Canadian Vacation

Canadian vacation almost over. Tomorrow it will be time to head back to New York. Today we had dim sum in the morning then I got myself out of a boring, senseless shopping around in Costco and some Chinese supermarket - I volunteered to take the kids home. Had we all went to Costco etc. the other adults would probably be busy with selecting the best fruits there are or focus all their attention on shopping and the kids would be roaming around the place. I hate that. Best to take them back to the relative's home, at least there it's much less likely some kidnapper will snatch one of them.