31 October 2006

No More Candies

Another Halloween has come and gone. Before I had my own Kid, I used to hate Halloween. In high school, Halloween was the time when kids throw eggs and shaving cream at other people or public properties. I am sure they still do. Some people just ruin the fun for everyone. Halloween should be just for the young kids, ten-year-old and younger, to go around asking for candies. I'll stretch it and let the adults dress up. I hate to see the gross masks with fake blood and other disgusting features.

business district of 86This year was my first trick-or-treating with my Kid. Today, I happened to have the day off, but other years I was always working and would come home too late in the day. Along with Kid's cousin Ja and her dad, we went along the Bensonhurstth Street between 25th Avenue and 21st Avenue. In a way, that was a sad fact of living in a big city. Instead of the kids going out on their own to residential houses in the neighborhood, we had to take the safer route and hit the businesses, with the parents trailing the kids. Many kids did come to our doors and we gave out most of the candies set aside for the occasion. We even used some of the treats our own kids collected.

Most of the businesses were nice and had someone at the door or near the entrance doling out candies. Most restaurants gave away mints, probably the same ones they have near the cash register all year long. Chinese takeout places usually gave out fortune cookies, with one place only had a lone worker so he just left a bunch out on the counter for the trick-or-treaters to help themselves to. Deserving special positive recognition is the Italian bakery Angelo's. The nice lady in there gave away cookies with a smile and she even gave them to the chaperones. Citibank was good, too, for hiring a clown to give away twisty balloons and paint faces. The Gap gave stickers instead of candies, which probably went well with the parents who don't want the kids to have too much sweets. A number of businesses put out signs stating that they had no more candies. That was acceptable for those stores that don't sell candies, but for CVS Pharmacy, that was hard to believe. Last but not least, the Do-Not-Do-Business-With-Them Award goes to the local chain haircut store, Supercuts, for giving out business cards instead of anything remotely decent for the kids. The least they could do was put out a No More Candies sign. Lately I've been getting my haircut done at home, so it's not like I can boycott them, but whenever the chance presents itself, I am sure I will let people know about the store's unwise participation in this year's Halloween.

My Kid dressed up as Superman-Batman-Warrior. He had on a Superman cape, with a Superman chest logo supposedly to balance the cape and shoulder pads/speakers. Pressing a button on the left shoulder pad triggers whooshing sound, as if the wearer is flying through the air. Originally, he wanted to be a warrior and used just the cape, a bike helmet, and sword and shield. I even made him a pitiful armor plate using cardboard strips wrapped in aluminum foil. He wore that to school, but when we went out trick-or-treating in the afternoon, he didn't want the armor, and went back to the full Superman kit. He also put on a Batman mask, yet still carried the sword and shield combo. He enjoyed the experience very much, but by the time we got to Commerce Bank, he needed to sit and rest, which was when I snapped this photo.

29 October 2006

All Hands On Deck

I used to volunteer regularly for various organizations. Central Park L.I.V.E., Queens Library, Amiga computer club, etc., but since being married with one Kid, plus longer hours at work and a longer commute, I no longer have time to commit time every week for volunteering work. So when that there was a one-shot volunteering opportunity with ON DEC (Our Neighborhood Digital Education Community), I jumped at the chance. The work was needed over just one weekend, either both days or one day out of the two. The ON DEC program involves a big financial firm donating money for the purchase of Gateway Windoze PCs to give away to students at the target school, with training for the parents to use email (via Yahoo! and MetConnect free ISP). I signed on as an installer and was accompanied by an assistant installer, a teacher at the school. Together we visited the homes of four students, all in the same apartment building. It was an interesting experience, somewhat a glimpse into the lives of people I would otherwise may not know. Two of the families were Hindus and were related. At one of the apartments, there was a small bed in the living room. The arrangement reminded me of my own family shortly after we first came to America. Six people in a two-bedroom apartment, naturally the living room also served as the bedroom for us four kids. To be qualified for the program, the student must have no existing computers in the household, but at one of the family we visited, they already had TWO computers, one heavily modded desktop and a laptop elsewhere - I knew about the laptop because the Linksys router had a long Ethernet cable running off to somewhere else in the apartment. I was supposed to hook up their RJ-11 phone cable to a nearby phone jack, but at that apartment, there was no way to do so. It would be silly to do it, even if it was possible, because they already had broadband Internet access via cable modem. The PeeCee already had a built-in network port, so I sent one of the student's sister out to buy an Ethernet cable and just joined the new PeeCee to the existing network. In another apartment, the family only used cell phone and had no land line so we couldn't do anything about the Internet setup. Supposedly the mother would order phone service from Sprint (!). She probably has Sprint as her cell phone provider so she thought it would provide land line service, too. In that same apartment, the computer at first wouldn't boot up but beeped incessantly, with no video output. We called our tech guru and were told to re-seat the memory module. I asked for a screw driver to open the CPU case, but the family didn't even have that. My partner went next door to borrow one, but by the time she came back I managed to use a quarter coin to open the two large screws. I moved the memory module to another slot and at the next bootup, all was well.

I enjoyed the experience. I usually volunteer for works that involve learning something new, but in this case, my computer expertise was helpful, so I made an exception for that. It was good to be welcomed into the students' homes, some more welcoming than others. With almost everything being done on computers, hopefully these student will make the most of the free computers to keep up with technology.

27 October 2006

Free Compost

If you live in Brooklyn, NY and have a garden, you should know about the City's compost giveaway. The first week of the event, Oct 23 through Oct 28, is almost over, but there is a second week to it - Oct 30 through Nov 4. The location is the Spring Creek Composting Site, near the intersection of Fountain Avenues and Flatlands Avenue, just a bit off the Belt Parkway's Erskine Street exit. Bring your own bags or buckets and load up as much as you can carry! The City also sells empty sacks, two for a dollar. On the way out, you can also pick up a packet of five free paper leaf bag. On November 11 and 25, the City will have leaf collections for composting. Since plastic doesn't decompose with the leaves but paper does, we are asked to put the leaves in paper bags, so those five free bags will come in handy. For more detailed info, visit http://www.nyc.gov/nycwasteless

I myself just went to the Compost Center yesterday. The location is easy to find and maybe because it was a weekday, the line to get inside was short. I went primarily for the free leaf bags, but I also loaded up one black trash bag of compost. The compost will be mostly used by my mother and the small garden we have in the backyard, as well as mother's many container gardens.

Gardening is not my thing. I once owned a free plot from a local Queens recycling group. I helped the group with administrative tasks so when they opened up a garden, I got a plot to raise something. I don't recall whether I actually planted anything there or not, but my plot never thickened, or at least nothing fruitful came out of it. The only thing I can grow or maintain are the indoor plant philodendrons. Four jobs or more than ten years ago, a then colleague, D.Y., just bought a house and found a pot of philodendrons in her backyard. It didn't belong there and wasn't doing well. She brought it into the office for me to take care of. I watered it regularly and eventually it survived. I snipped a piece and took the piece home and it thrived even more, climbing from one side of the window to the other. When I was downsized from that job, I took the pot with me, to almost every job afterward. At each job, I would cut a piece and give it away to anyone who wants one - cleaning ladies, manager-in-training, and colleagues. When I gave the pieces away, I even planted the new pieces in their own pots and soil. At my current job, my philo has three or four descendants elsewhere in the company.

23 October 2006

Key Food - Good; Sun Hing - Good For Nothing

Yesterday I bought snacks and drinks for my Kid and his cousins, from the Key Food Supermarket at 18th Avenue and Bath Avenue. The items were a bag of potato chips, a bag of Cheetoh, a Snapple glass bottle, an orange juice plastic bottle, and two small bottles of Gatorade lemon lime, 355-mL in size. The total came out to about $14 and I was a bit surprised, but with four kids howling to get their snacks and drinks, I paid for the stuff, took the receipt, and headed back to the car. At night, I looked over the receipt and lo and behold, I was charged over four dollars for each of the 355-mL Gatorade! If I bought them at Yankee Stadium, then it would be the norm, but I didn't, so there must be a mistake somewhere. Today, I went back to the store and told the manager about the situation. If he believed me and gave me back the extra amount, that's swell; if not, at least he knows of the problem and can fix it should he chooses to. It turned out he believed me and pointed out that even though they had laser scanner, the computer does not know whether one bottle or one 6-pack was sold. The cashier was supposed to know better to tell the computer it was one bottle, instead, she charged me for six. In the end, I got my $6+ back and an apology from the manager. I walked out of the store feeling good and thought better of the place.

My Mother's experience with the big Chinese market near us, Sun Hing, is a different story altogether. More than a month ago, she bought some grocery and was going to pay for it with food stamps. She knew she had $20.xx in the account but many times when the cashier swiped the card, it kept getting rejected for insufficient fund. She then paid with cash but still was convinced that she had enough money in her account. We contacted the food stamps office to get a copy of the statement and sure enough an amount of $20.xx was deducted from her account that same day. Chances are one of the first swipes did go through and ate up all the money so subsequent swipes failed. When Mother went back to Sun Hing, the manager said he didn't handle such matters, that his bank would handle it. It was also in the way he said it. He just cut her off and went about his business. Some manager, he probably just wants to take our money and don't care about anything else, especially about giving back. Coincidentally, his wife was the very cashier who did the swiping for Mother. She even denied being the one who did it and claimed that she didn't work that day. I wonder what their security camera would show on that day. So we now have taken matters to the food stamps office and hopefully they would resolve it in our favor. Let's also hope food stamp office will watch more closely unfriendly businesses like Sun Hing.

Sun Hing seems to be the typical Asian business that take advantages of bankruptcy laws. Not long ago, it was Big Wong, in Chinese, then changed its name to Viet-Sino. All along, the English name was still T&H. Then one day it suddenly closed and when it re-opened some weeks later, the inside changed somewhat, but the store was then known as Sun Hing, both in English and Chinese. The managers are still the same people throughout all the changes. I suspect they just changed some paperwork and maybe declared the previous store bankrupt, wrote off some bogus losses, and opened a new store. I've heard of such scams made by Korean grocers and my cousin-in-law out in Arizona said he knows Vietnamese people involved in such illegal activities. Maybe because I'm Asian I pay more attention to Asian matters, and sadly most of what I see are dishonorable. Those same unscrupulous people, if caught, would hide behind the weak excuse that they were victims of racial discrimination. It's people like them who bring disrespect and shame to the entire ethnic group.

22 October 2006

Dee Dee

I've decided to also name the previous owner of Friday, which you may recall is the code name for the Windows XP desktop computer I found recently. She'll be know from now on as Dee Dee, short for Dimension Donor, since she sort of gave me her Dell Dimension computer.

Well, Dee Dee, I don't know if it's worth the problem of having your computer. On more than one occasion, I've seen the web browser, which is now Firefox, popped up without my telling it so. I don't know if it has any significance, but the web site is about hacks for the online game Battlefield 2. Also, there is a program called Smileys that persistently refused to be uninstalled. When I tried to uninstall it via Add/Remove Program, no uninstall window would pop-up but instead when I look at processes running, I would see that Smileys has started itself somehow. Last but not least, the PC somehow cannot see my brand new HP laser printer. The connection between the printer and Friday was secure, but the PC would not find it. I tested the same connection on a Windows 98 PC, also a throwaway from another neighbor, and it printed fine. Weird.

In other, more cheerful news, I went an extra lap around the park during my jog this morning. That was a 2.5-K jog. Slowly and surely, I'll have to get back to my standard of 4-mile, which is like 8-K.

21 October 2006

Boy Scouts of America

It seemed like only yesterday the Wife and I were talking to the Son's kindergarten teacher about having him taking extra-curricular activities to keep him more interested in school. He spent pre-K in private school and a lot of the "new" things public school taught in kindergarten he already knew. The teacher mentioned that Boy Scouts of America rent the school's first floor and the gym every Friday, but Son would have to be in first grade. Yesterday, the Son, now in first grade, had his first meeting as a Tiger Cub Scout. We only needed to fill out a registration form and forked over $75 and he's a scout. We'll have to buy the uniform separately. I thought the uniform would be included in the $75 - wishful thinking. J enjoyed the first meeting - they played some team game on the first floor and then played dodge ball in the gym on the second floor. It was good exercise for him. He met a few of his classmates so he won't have problem blending in.

I spent a lot of time with the new-founded Windoze PC, which I shall name Friday, like Robinson Crusoe's discovery. Hooking it up to the Internet was as easy as popping in a network interface card, but looking for that card took twenty times the amount of time. I was sure I had all the spare expansion cards I cannibalized from all the other PCs together in a bag, but it turned out that bag only had removable drives, e.g. Zip and Jaz and their associated power adapters. Being a pack rat and a recycler has its disadvantages. Finally, totally by chance I came across my cache of expansion cards - sound cards, hard drives, 33.6k modems, and voila, two NICs, a 3Com and a NetGear. I had a pretty good experience with a NetGear not too long ago while re-installing Windoze for my brother-in-law so I went with the NetGear. Windoze XP recognized the card and there was nothing else to do other than plugging in a Cat5 network cable. I couldn't figure out how to remove the floppy drive, but a visit to Dell.com solved the problem. Although I was able to remove the drive, the replacement drive from an old Gateway PC didn't fit in. I vacuumed near the mouth of the old, supposedly defective, drive a little bit and put it back, then it just worked. It read a floppy disk and even allowed me to copy a file to it and then deleted the file. The only hardware expansion I would like to carry out is to add more memory. I thought I would be able to use the many spare memory modules I have littering about the room, but alas, my modules are SDRAM, whereas Dell's are RDRAM. And they don't come cheap. I thought I would be able to expand to over one gig of RAM but that will set me back a few hundred dollars. Maybe I'll just live with the 256 MB...

19 October 2006


Here's a rendering my friend V. McAlexander made on her Amiga computer some ten years or more ago. It is titled Glasses and was probably crafted in the 3D graphic program called Imagine. I was looking for 2D paintings, instead of renderings from 3D apps, and found some, but then the pictures I found seemed to be some kind of animation, or at least still images with color-cycling. In these quasi-animation, nothing really moves other than the colors. For example, an eyeball may appear to dilate simply by making concentric circles' color turned on in sequence, to give the appearance of the innermost circle moving outward from the center of the eye. I'll try to load these possible anims into Personal Paint so they can be saved as animgif, an animation format suitable for the web. For all the great advantages the Amiga had, its native formats, IFF for still images and IFF ANIM for animation, are not standard on the web.

Originally I was going to use an old Pentium PC to be the middleman for transferring files from the Amiga to the Mac. Then on the way to the park to do my morning 2K jog, I found a discarded Dell PeeCee very much intact, left on the curb for garbage collection. Whenever I see a computer thrown away, I try to adopt it, either for parts or for the next electronics recycling event. Lots of time, the computer is stripped away of all useful components, e.g. hard drive, memory, expansion cards. Other times when the computer is still usable it would be an old 486 or Pentium I running Windows 95 and the minimum amount of memory. But this time it's a gem of a find. Windows XP with Service Pack 2, DVD player, 1.x GHz CPU speed! The machine was totally intact, all the data on the hard drive still there. It belonged to some teenage girl and there are tons of photos of her and her friends. I guess she doesn't know much about computers and identity theft. I'll create myself some accounts and leave her data alone, but someday when the hard drive needs space, I'll delete her stuff to make room. I would re-format the computer but Windows is such a pain to deal with I'm not going to do it. Windows being the unreliable system it is, I'm sure some days I will have to re-install it anyway. The machine does need a little work, like a replacement floppy drive, more memory (it has only 256 MB), and a network card. All those spare parts I've saved from other computers will come in handy. I just hope XP is smart enough to recognize the new hardware, as searching for Windows drivers can be quite a pain. Because of the defective floppy drive, I still had to use the old Pentium to transfer V.'s picture to the Mac.

18 October 2006

Amiga Revisited

An old friend, V.M., wrote me a paper letter recently. I know her from the days I helped run the local Amiga computer club in New York. I never met her as she lived in New Mexico. She painted, made animations, crafted 3D models, and composed music, all on the the Amiga computer, of course. She sent the computer club many diskettes containing her works of art and I tried my best to showcase them to the club. By the time I got to know her, the Amiga computer wasn't that hot anymore and not that many people attended the club meetings, but I still plowed on. I asked her for her permission to post her works on the club web site and she agreed, but I never got around to doing the actual work. It's been a few years now since I last had the Amiga 3000 computer powered. In the letter, V.M. waxed nostalgia about the great old days, and I thought of finally bringing my Amiga up and running again. Today, I finally had the chance, with the excuse being my son's wish to play something with the Suncom Tac 50 joystick.

What a pleasant surprise it was that the Amiga still managed to boot up. I am sure in the inside there must be lots of dust bunnies. The floppy drive has no swinging door to cover its gaping mouth. At first it was a bit awkward, but shortly afterward lots of things started to come back to me. Many of the games I have for the Amiga work off 3.5-inch 1.88-MB floppy diskettes, so I had to boot the computer from the floppy drive. Amazingly, I still remember that to get to the boot menu I would have to hold down the two mouse buttons. At the boot menu, select Options, then df0: (dee eff zero colon), that's A: drive for you Windoze crowd, and click boot, or something to that effect. To restart the computer, press Ctrl + Right Amiga + Left Amiga. You better be sure you really want to reboot, because the computer will do so without asking for confirmation. The only keyboard shortcut that I couldn't recall was the one to switch program. I was sure it was Left Amiga + M, but that didn't do it.

FYI, my Amiga 3000 has 8 MB of memory, an 80-MB hard drive (yes, megabytes, NOT gigabytes), and the CPU runs at the blazing speed of 16 MHz or something like that. Its GUI, the Workbench, is modified with MagicWorkbench to show 8-color icons; the default would be just four. The OS is version 3.1 or something in the neighborhood. I still recall the scary moments when I upgraded the chips and put it in the wrong way. Luckily, some helpful posts on Usenet pointed me in the right direction.

It'll be an arduous task to transfer V.M.'s paintings etc. from the Amiga to the PowerBook. The built-in means is the lowly floppy. My Amiga has been outfitted with CrossDOS to read MS-DOS 1.44-MB disks, even though the Amiga natively formats diskettes to 1.88-MB, I think. Its OS is simply leaner than DOS, or even today's Windoze. Anyway, anything leaving the Amiga will have to be via an MS-DOS diskette. From there, I can either use an old PeeCee to read the diskette and transfer the data to a USB flash drive. I can also do that on my old Wall Street PowerBook, as it has an Imation SuperDrive that can double as a slooow floppy drive. Since the SuperDrive isn't that super at reading DOS diskettes, I will stick to the lowly 386 PeeCee. Collect enough pictures in iPhoto and I'll have plenty of options to put the work on the web. For now, I'll most likely use Galerie, but I recently signed up with Google's Picasa Web Album. This may be the perfect opportunity to put Picasa Web Album through its pace.

17 October 2006


My current favorite word game is TextTwist. You are given a bunch of letters and within the allocated amount of time you must make up as many words as possible. The minimum length for a word is three letters long. There's always at least one word that makes use of all the available letters. If you can make that word, then you can advance to the next level, else the game is over, even if you somehow manage to form all the other shorter words. In the screenshot at left, I already guessed shades, sashed, and dashes. To play TextTwist well, it helps to make use of past tense (usually by adding -ed to the verb's end) or plural (usually by appending -s or -es to nouns). You can use the mouse to click on the letters, but if you type faster than moving the mouse, use the keyboard as the game is time-sensitive. When the timer goes down to ten seconds, it starts to make audible countdown sounds, and you better come up with the longest word quick!

I happen to regularly play TextTwist online at GameHouse.com but the game is available elsewhere, too. I currently have 240 points with GameHouse, but I think it's only for fun, no real value. The online version usually has an ad inserted at the beginning - that's how it stays free. If you don't want to slow down by the ad, you can play the offline paid version, called Super TextTwist. A 60-minute time-limited demo is available. Advantages for playing offline include full-screen mode and untimed version. While I can use the full-screen mode as I try not to wear glasses too much while computing, the untimed version is not that advantageous. Lots of time when I am stuck, I'm just simply that... stuck. No amount of time will be enough if you simply don't know the longest word. Having the game ended at some point helps breaking away from the computer, too. I remember when I first bought Bookworm, I spent a few nights playing past 2 am, because I just kept advancing through the levels without getting a burning tile consuming the library in flame. At $20, the game is pretty standard in terms of price. There's even a $7 discount for registering with GameHouse so I am pretty tempted to buy the offline version, but I guess I'll wait to see if by April next year I still have a job or not...

I went jogging yesterday, but probably not for 2K in distance. Universal Pictures was filming a movie called American Gangster in the area of the park that I usually run around. Members of the film crew were all over the area and I had to run at a nearby park. Even then near the end one of the film people asked me to stop running and I had to head back. I logged in about 20 minutes of run time so that should do.

It's hard to get up early in the morning, but it's even harder now when that means leaving one's warm bed. This morning, I did get out of bed, but only to turn off the alarm clock on the cell phone, then went straight back to sleep. I'll try to be more disciplined tomorrow morning. Unless it rains, of course...

16 October 2006

Going Gaga Over Google Gadgets

I couldn't help it. WordWeb dictionary and This Day In History weren't enough. I had to add some more Google Gadgets to my sidebar, so in went Word of the Day from Dictionary.com and Chinese Audio Word of the Day from Declan Software. I was disappointed that there was no English word of the day at all with Google, but luckily not too long ago I saw the code for Word of the Day at Dictionary.com. I would love to see the word definition along with the word, but for now I'll have to live with whatever Dictionary.com provides. Maybe I'll read up on Google Gadget API to see if I can manipulate Dictionary.com's script somehow...

My late father was born in Vietnam but always considered himself Chinese. He tried to get all his children know Chinese but we couldn't fully meet his expectation. Three out of four went to Chinese school and can read and write a little bit. For years, every week my father would bring home for me the Oriental Heroes graphic novel. It helped somewhat, but reading and speaking are two different things. I regularly talk to my in-laws in Cantonese and occasionally watch Chinese movies, but I still consider my Chinese to be entry level. The language is just too darn difficult! Going along with my seemingly futile attempt to know more Chinese, I've thrown in the Google Gadget for Declan Software's Chinese Audio Word of the Day. It probably doesn't help that Declan uses Simplified Chinese characters whereas my paltry knowledge of Chinese words is for the Traditional form.

My love for the English words started one summer in the mid-80s when I prepared for the S.A.T. With my high school friends M and R, each day we would make a list of twenty words and their meanings from some S.A.T. prep book. We would try to memorize all the words and I would try to make use of the new words in our daily conversation and writings. I think the next summer I was the only one left studying the words this way. I supplement the study with crossword puzzles, William Safire's weekly column On Language in the New York Times, Word Power in Readers' Digest, etc. One American Heritage paperback dictionary I had was so worn out from the constant flipping I went through it with the puzzles. I boosted my overall S.A.T. score by 200 points the second time I took it - I suspect it was mostly from the English portion. Nowadays I play word games like Bookworm and TextTwist to keep my mind fresh with the words I know. Writing this blog helps, too. There are only so many fancy words one can use in the business environment.

13 October 2006

2K, 1 Month, -5#

It's been a month since I started my "new" exercise regiment - sleep before midnight, get up at 6am, then do a 2-kilometer jog. I am happy to report that all that hard work has paid off in five pounds in lost weight. My weight has gone down from 210 pounds to 205 pounds. Yippee!

Of course, going with my attempt to favor metric over English system of measurement, I should say that my weight is 92 kilogram or 92 kg, down from 95 kg. Hmm, that's one problem with the metric system - since 1 kg is lighter than 1 pound, losing 5 pounds sounds better than losing a measly 3 kilograms, even though it's the same amount of weight.

It's not easy to get up so early. Starting in college, I was able to stay up late, usually until 1am, sometimes 2am, but getting up early is not something I can do easily. Until now. Here's hoping a month from now I'll weigh in at 89 kg...

11 October 2006


I haven't written about my Battle of the Bulge but it doesn't mean I gave up on it. As a matter of fact, I did have a 2K run this morning. With dawn arriving later in the day and the cold weather setting in, it does take a little more determination, but I did it. Yesterday was another story. I started to sneeze and had a stuffy nose during warm-up and decided against it. Instead, I went back to sleep, on the living room sofa.

Last week, after working from home on Wednesday, I went jogging for the 2K. Maybe because I'm used to the processed air of the office, lots of time after spending a day working at home I would get a nasty headache. I try to keep the room well ventilated, all the windows open, but sometimes the headache just comes. I try not to sit down too long, by going downstairs for lunch and by making a quick run to the public library. However, for last week, the cure for the headache was a 2K run. I ran another 2K the following morning, but then by Friday and over the weekend, I had a nasty pain in the left knee whenever the left knee is compressed, such as during kneeling or squatting. I had to take a break and by yesterday all was well again.

I went ahead and bought a pedometer, in the hope of using the little gadget to entice my son into doing more exercise. I checked out the device today. You do have to tell it your stride length for it to calculate distance. The particular device I got also does calories counting, so I also had to enter my weight. Strangely, the calories marker is label KCAL. To a computer geek like me, K means Kilo or thousands, so KCAL would translate to thousands of calories. Yet, I only walked on the treadmill for about 5 minutes and the calories burnt, supposedly, were about 8. That cannot be 8,000 calories for just 5 minutes of slow walking. It should be labeled plainly as CAL.

10 October 2006

Google Gadgets

A few weeks ago Google released Google Gadgets - little programs that can be added to one's homepage. It's amazing how many gadgets are out there for the taking. All you do is go to http://www.google.com/ig/directory?synd=open , preview the many gadgets and click on the Add to your webpage button to customize the app and get the code. Customize doesn't mean 100% customization. For example, I really wanted the Dictionary.com gadget but it wouldn't fit nicely into my sidebar. I would love to be able to resize the input field of the Dictionary.com gadget, but that's not an option. Maybe I'll read about how to create gadgets and come up with my own. Also, I've found out that Blogger wouldn't let the code live inside a blog entry. The error was something about tag not allowed. For now, I'm happy with the two gadgets I've added to my sidebar - Today in History and WordWeb Online English Dictionary and Thesaurus. I picked WordWeb mostly because it can be resized to fit into my sidebar, but also because I recognize the name as that of a free dictionary program for Windows. Well, the somewhat less powerful version is free, while the Pro version is not. Visit http://wordweb.info/ for more info.

06 October 2006

Public Library, Ch-Ch-Changes

The first library card I got was from the Francis Martin Branch of the NYPL, in the Bronx. It was 1980 and there were already many Vietnamese in the area so the library's response was to stock up a decent number of Vietnamese books. That's some 26 years ago and I cannot recall what kind of books I borrowed from the library, whether it was Vietnamese or English. Or if I borrowed many books at all. What I do recall is that way back then, the library card was a piece of paper. There was no bar code assigned to each book. Instead, each time an item was taken out, it was photographed and put on microfiche or something like that. I kid you not. There was this device that had an orange light, the librarian put the book under the light and pressed some button, zapped! the item was photographed. On the last page of each book there would be a pocket to hold the card that would tell you when the item would due back. Librarians would stamp the cards after photographing your books.

I lived in the Bronx for only about five months and then spent many years in Queens. For checking out, the public libraries in Queens used digitizer to read bar codes on the books. All was well except when the computer was down. When that happened, there would be long lines as librarians meticulously jotted down, by hand, with pens, each of the lengthy numbers corresponding to the bar codes. Eventually, we have the scanner gun of the current systems. Perhaps with better backup systems, the library checkout computers seem to never be down nowadays.

When videos became popular, the Queens Library offered them for borrowing, but in the beginning, only the Central Library in Jamaica had the videos. I did go there once in a while, probably to borrow text books to supplement my college study, and one time even registered my existing library card for video-borrowing. The process involved filling out some additional form and a notch was cut into the plastic library card. The line was always long and I think videos were allowed for only one week. I never borrowed any videos from the Central Library. It was just too much of a hassle to travel all the way to Jamaica two weeks consecutively. Yes, back then, videos had to be returned to the same library where they were taken out of.

One year I volunteered for the Jackson Heights Branch of the Queens Library system. I helped stack books and so on. I was also a frequent borrower of music audiotapes. Many of the tapes' liners were not returned and I found it very frustrating. Some tapes had the song titles printed on the tapes themselves while others didn't, so without the liners you wouldn't know the names of the songs. This was the early 1980s, before the World Wide Web and GracenoteCDDB so there was no convenient way to find the song names. Also, because the tapes were locked in clear rotating cases, without the liners' spines, where one would know the names of the artists and albums, tapes without spines could be something I like but wouldn't take out because I didn't know what they were. I took the initiative of making replacement liners for the tapes using trimmed down index cards. I wrote clearly on the spines and decorated the front of the liners with album and artist names in fancy, handwritten fonts. I cannot recall whether I made any drawings. I did it all on my own time, at home, not while volunteering at the library. I would purposely borrow the tapes without the liners and based on whatever info still available on the tapes themselves, made the replacement liners, then returned them. At some point, one librarian noticed my handiwork and notified the head librarian. Get this, he had a talk with me and suspected that I stole all those liners in the first place! Some appreciation! I told him the truth and stopped my vigilante work with the missing liners. The library implemented a system to detect unreturned liners. When a tape loses its liner, a small piece of round, black paper would be affixed to the cassette holder. Supposedly, if someone returned a tape without the liner and the cassette holder didn't have a black dot, the person could be charged some fine for losing the liner. I never knew if the new system ever worked. For separate reason my volunteer work ended. Despite the ugly little accusation, the library gave me an award certificate at the end of the year, but the whole incident left me with a bad experience.

05 October 2006

Jefferson Market Library

I went to college in the East Village. Before that, I was mostly limited to exploring areas around my home and high school, both in Elmhurst, Queens. I commuted to school and often had time after class to explore the surrounding area. Having a location to serve as a destination helps and the various branches of the New York Public Library were my locations. The closest branch to school was the Ottendorfer Branch on Second Avenue. It's rather tiny and was a magnet for the homeless population in the neighborhood, especially in the winter. Further east there's the Tompkin Square Branch, right on the northern edge of Tompkin Square Park, where a major riot broke out between police and demonstrators in the 80's. I think I even ventured far south to the Hamilton Fish Market Branch on East Houston Street.

After college, most of the jobs I worked at were in midtown Manhattan, so I visited the Kips Bay Branch on Third Avenue, the Business Library at Madison and 34th Street (workstation with Internet connection, provide your own laptop, what a novelty!), the Mid-Manhattan Library, the Central Research Library with its two majestic stone lions, Donnell Center with its big collection of Vietnamese books, and many others in the midtown area. The best-looking library, in my opinion, must be the Jefferson Market Library on Sixth Avenue in the West Village. It used to be a courthouse, a jail, a marketplace, and its high tower was once used by the era's fire department for looking for fires. I wrote a Humanities paper on it in college and even got a decent grade for it, using fancy architectural terms and all.

One day I told my son I would take him visit a castle. That was the day I took him to the Jefferson Market Branch, where he picked out the DVD version of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. In the photo, J was standing on the traffic triangle bordered by Greenwich, Sixth Avenue, and 9th Street.

04 October 2006

Neither NetFlix Nor Blockbuster

You log onto a web site. You search by some keywords and find the DVD you want. You request for it to be delivered to one of many places throughout the city, naturally selecting a place that's close to your home or workplace, or some place that you normally pass by. You pick up the DVD, view it, renew it if needed, then return it, again, at one of many locations, of your choosing. All free.

Is it NetFlix? Blockbuster? No to both questions. It's your public library. Traditionally, public libraries offer books for borrowing, but have since adapted to new media and now offer music CDs, movies on DVDs and VHS, and audiobooks, in addition to books of course. I've been a great fan of the public libraries for it's a great way to make use of my tax dollars. It is also a good way to not clutter my house. Borrow to read or view then return them. I like to visit the different branches of the library system in my borough. Some are high-tech, others are run-down, some specialize in languages for the people living in the area, others are customized for businesses. With the high cost of gasoline and with little free time, I now no longer have the luxury of going around to the different branches. But then there's only so many movies DVDs or music CDs available at my local branch. I finally made use of the BPL's online request system. Locate the items, reserve them and request that they be delivered to my branch, and get a phone call from a computer when the items are ready for pickup. All free. Yes, you do have to wait a few days, and some items are not available for reservation, and like all things that are used a lot, the items are sometimes defective. The DVDs don't come into your mailbox like NetFlix's, you cannot return DVDs and tapes through the book slot, unlike Blockbuster's. The fine is heavy if you don't return the movies on time - $2 per day. One time I got hit with a $60 bill for 5 or 6 videos overdue a week or two. Oh well, contribution to the library, I do make much use of it, it is OK to pay back every now and then.

For the photo shown, I was inspired by old posters I used to buy mail-order from the American Library Association. The posters featured famous people, like the rock musician Sting or comedian Bill Cosby, reading books or holding books in their hands. I try to keep up with my son's education but there's only so much I know. One time I took him to a libary and he picked out a DVD version of the children's book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Supposedly he read it in school and liked it. I then tried to find for him the sequel Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 and my local branch supposedly has it, but every time I looked for it the book wasn't where it was supposed to be. Bill Martin and John Archambault are the authors, but I could never find it under A. I finally used the online request system and just waited to be called. Eventually, I got my book and my son enjoyed reading it under a beautiful sky sitting outside the Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center.

02 October 2006

Blogger Tip #4 - Google AdSense

On Sunday morning, I actually got up at 6 and did the usual warm-up. Maybe it was because I had my Robitussin just in time to fight the cough better, or maybe it was my wife's Toisan hot soup, my cough wasn't as bad as past years'. Anyway, the minute I was out the door to the park for my broken 2K run, it started to drizzle. Another block away and the raindrops got bigger. I ended up going back to bed and slept till 10. However, I actually went running at 6 in the evening after the wife and the kid went to the in-laws for dinner.

And now time for yet another Blogger tip. If you can use a little money, and I really mean little, hook your blog up to Google's AdSense. Blogger itself is ad-free and you are in no way obligated to plaster ads on your site, but a little ad and a little money can be kinda fun. Thanks to Google's context-sensitive technology, the ads are relevant to what's in your blog. I get a chuckle every now and then on how relevant the ads are to my blog writings. I am tempted to write a blog entry that contains totally random text to confuse AdSense, but then again my blog may be misunderstood for splog and flagged for de-promotion. FYI, I signed up with AdSense last October so now, a year later, I have a whopping $20+ in my Google AdSense account. It's mostly because I only started to update my blog almost daily only recently. The more frequently your blog is updated, the more ads are rotated into place in your blog, which translates to more variety and money. One ad that was placed on my blog one day was for some guy who claimed he had the technique that got him thousands of dollars a month with Google AdSense. Sounds like B.S. to me. Or just pure spamming, making enemies out of everyone you know, burning every bridges after crossing them.

There are many ways to display ads. I've chosen the least intrusive way, yet most prominent for the advertisers. Two small ads at the top will do. I find it so distasteful that some blogs show the ads, some ten or so of them, right at the top of the screen. Blog readers would have to scroll down a page or two to get to the meaty stuff of the blog. Those bloggers probably don't expect repeat visitors and only want to make a few quick bucks. On the other hand, I still want to provide some original content and only make some beer money on the side.