30 December 2006

Home Manufacturing

I visited a high school friend's home recently. My son was happy to play with his two children and a nephew. One of the toys the kids played with was basically a mold for making miniature "robots". It was in the shape of a robot standing erect. The big robot's chest served as a chamber where Crayola crayons would be stacked and become melted. The melted crayons would flow down into a mold that served as the lower part of the robot. Supposedly, three whole Crayola crayons would make two miniature robots. The little "crayon oven" made me fondly recall a fun time I had when I was in the refugee camp in Indonesia.

I was a young lad of twelve years of age when I left Viet Nam with my parents and siblings for the open sea. We were known as boat people. Incidentally, the Vietnamese were not the first to be known as boat people. That honor was first bestowed upon the Irish who left their homeland and the devastating Potato Famine, for America. The Vietnamese, being half the world away from the U.S., had to first aim for some neighboring country of Viet Nam, such as Malaysia or Indonesia. In our case, we ended up in Indonesia, probably at some northernmost islands of Indonesia's many islands. In the refugee camp, I helped out around the house, or the hut, to be exact, with chopping logs into fireworks and drawing water from the well, but otherwise had much free time. No TV, no Internet access, no electricity, no telephone, we were mostly removed from civilization. Chinese chess was a popular pastime for many people on the island. In international chess, the pieces are tall cylinders with the upper part shaped to resemble horses, castles, etc. In Chinese chess, the pieces are merely short cylinders, much like checker pieces, with Chinese characters on the top side. Some people got the bright idea of making the pieces from scratch. I think it was more of an activity to pass the time, as there were a few sets of Chinese chess throughout the camp, probably brought from Viet Nam on the outgoing trip. The process of making the chess pieces were ingenious to me back then, and now, too.

The pieces were made out of plastic. We would gather plastic garbage, such as leaky plastic bottles or other types of plastic containers. A large pot would be set up on three bricks and a fire kindled underneath the pot. Into the pot all the plastic pieces went and shortly afterward we had a pot of foul-smelling hot, melted plastic. To make the mold for the chess pieces, someone would cut open soda cans, flattened them out into rectangular sheets, then cut the sheets into thin strips. The strips would be rolled up and somehow held together. I cannot recall how it was done, as we certainly didn't have Crazy Glue at the time. Anyway, molds were laid out and the hot, melted plastic would be poured into them. After some amount of time had passed, the solidified plastic disks were removed from the molds and the Chinese characters were engraved onto them, possibly with a pocket knife. Lastly, toothpaste was used to fill the engraving lines. What I cannot recall is how we distinguish the pieces, as back then we only had white toothpaste and none of the fancy Slime Green or Bubble Gum Pink that are available at the corner pharmacy. Maybe we somehow darkened the toothpaste for one side while the other side's pieces were left as white. All in all, it was a lengthy process, but hey, we had all the time in the world to kill while waiting for a possible sponsor in the U.S. or elsewhere to be contacted, for the sponsoring process to get rolling.

28 December 2006

Block the Flasher!

Web annoyances, such as pop-up windows and animations, are they, collectively, just an ugly fact of life or is there anything to be done about them? I am very glad to tell you that it's the latter choice. I have for a while enjoyed life on the web with no pop-up windows, thanks to Firefox's built-in ability to suppress them. To be fair, other web browser nowadays have popup blocker built-in, too. The issue with animations is a totally different story. Lately, I have been getting my news from Yahoo! and it sure has many annoying animated advertisements. I naively thought the ads were animated GIFs (animgif) but animGIFs are so 1990's, just what was I thinking? I searched through Firefox's list of available add-ons and extensions to somehow suppress these annoying ads and had no success. By viewing the source code of the web page I finally determined that the ads were Flash animations. Enter Flashblock and the problem was resolved. Now when Firefox loads a web site that is plagued with the Flash anim, Flashblock replaces the anim with a placeholder showing the Flash logo, like that on the right of the screenshot. Should I really want to see the anim, I would click on it and only then would it be loaded. I installed Flashblock for both my PowerBook (OS X 10.4) and my Windoze XP PC SP2 and now my web-surfing experience sure is much better.

Get your Flashblock extension for Firefox and other open-source web browser here:

26 December 2006

Kodak Z612

I have been playing around with my new digital camera, the Kodak Z612. I got my first digicam some time in 2001 and it was not the top of the line of the time - a measly 2.2 megapixel was all it had. Not that megapixel means too much for me, as megapixel is only an indication of how large the photos can be enlarged without losing quality. Even 2.2 megapixel translates to 8.5" x 11", so really 2.2 is quite enough. Therefore, I didn't get the Kodak Z612 for its 6.1 megapixel size. Instead, it was the battery use (high-capacity rechargeable Lithium-Ion instead of landfill-choking AA), 12x optical zoom, and video recording feature that got me interested. With the old digicam, I really hated the frequent change of batteries. I tried to use rechargeable AA batteries, but it was such a hassle to have to recharge them so quickly. Instead of using the LCD viewfinder, I had to squint through the regular viewfinder because using the LCD drains the batteries very quickly. I didn't bother mentioning digital zoom because it's next to useless. Sure you can zoom digitally from some distance, but the resulting image would be jaggied or darkened. Lastly, the ability to record and press just a few buttons to review the new recording is such a major convenience. I have a miniDV camcorder but the hassle of rewinding and forwarding is such a pain I haven't used it much. Besides, it's somewhat bulky even for its small size and takes some time to be up and ready. Same thing with the old digicam. Turn it on and I would have to wait a few precious seconds while the device reads the memory card. Not so with the new Z612. With a 2-GB SD memory card added, I plan to use the Z612 as a camcorder whenever the chance comes up. Naturally, I already recorded three clips of my son in his usual animated status. YouTube anyone?

25 December 2006


A few days ago I had dinner with some old friends from my Amiga users group days. It was good to talk about the good old days.

For over seven years, I was involved with the Amiga Users Group of New York, a.k.a. Amuse. Yes, it's a very contrived abbreviation or acronym, if it can be called as such. It was some time in the late 1980s when I first attended an Amuse meeting, held at the School of Visual Arts on 23rd Street in Manhattan, the Amiga computing platform was at its height. The Video Toaster was opening new frontiers in the desktop video, Psygnosis and Electronic Arts, with other big game companies, released titles after titles for the Amiga platform, and AmiExpo events were packed with attendees. At first I was just your average attendee, going to the meeting just to see and hear what's new, in hope of getting some freebies or good deals. One of the freebies was the Amuse newsletter. In the beginning, the newsletter was coming out regularly, then slowly it didn't come out at all. I started heckling then-President Scott M about the missing newsletter. Maybe the action made me more memorable to Scott, for he invited me to a board meeting and I came out of it the group's Program Coordinator. My role was to bring in speakers for the meetings. I cannot remember those that I successfully brought in, but I still remember those that I made so many calls to yet got no results in the end. All that working the phone was done without a cell phone or PDA. Amazing what we can do when we have an undemanding job and NOT married with children. At some point, Mr. Program Coordinator became the Membership Administrator and also served a Internet Special Interest Group (SIG) Leader, as well as Newsletter Contributor. The nice thing with being in charge of the membership list was that I got to know most people by their first names. I think it gave them a good feeling to go to the meetings and be greeted on a first name basis. For the SIG, I regularly held meetings at Internet cafes to introduce to the handful of people that show up the basics of the web. The newsletter, for which I was originally got involved with Amuse, in the end became half-owned by me and another volunteer, Ed L. A desktop publishing expert, Ed produced the beautiful newsletter and even wrote many articles himself. I rounded out the newsletters with news and announcements that I received at the group's mailbox. In the Amiga's heyday, we regularly received sample software or trial stuff, even fully-functional software every now and then.

By and by, the Amiga computer's parent company, Commodore, fumbled in the market and the Amiga technology went through a few ownership. I still stuck by the users group at its many temporary homes - School of Visual Arts, various Internet cafes, Giorgio Gomelsky's Studio, or any businesses that would host us. The final home, even to this day, is New York University. The thing that finally separated me from Amuse was marriage. I moved to Brooklyn after getting married and lived with the in-laws, coming home late three times a month just didn't jive. By then each meeting had only a few faithful and there's nothing to show anyway. I am amazed that my old Amuse friends continue to meet until this day. Supposedly there's an Amiga One computer coming out any day now. Then there's even a Pegasus computer, which is a clone of the Amiga OS. With the computer world largely dominated by Windoze, Mac, and Linux, this piece of news is like hearing about new dialect of some remote island civilization's language.

If you happen to still use an Amiga computer, you can try joining the Amuse Yahoo!Group through the button below. Like all things hosted through Yahoo!, you'll need to have a Yahoo! account to login.

Click to join amuse-ny

23 December 2006

Save PDF to iPhoto

I had been blogging for about a year when I got my sister O into it. She had been reading my ranting for some time and printed out most, if not all, of my posts and keeps them in a binder. Sister is more comfortable with things she can have physical contact with, versus things in cyberspace that one have to interact through search windows, menus, etc.

She enjoys blogging very much so I thought of making her a booklet containing all her blog entries. I suspect she may have a set of hard copies somewhere. The pages were possibly printed on one side and kept together in a three-hole ring binder. I figured I could do a better job with the printouts given my technical expertise and the proper collection of hardware.

The first thing I considered doing was capturing the printouts in PDF (Portable Document Format) then assemble the pieces together, perhaps in Acrobat Professional. Adobe's PDF standard allows any computers with Acrobat Reader to read documents created elsewhere. Acrobat Reader is available for all the major computing platforms. On my XP PC, I have CutePDF installed to capture anything printable into a PDF file. I would go to each of my sis' blog entry, select Print, then choose the CutePDF printer driver, and give the document a name. Even with her seemingly infrequent publishing schedule, O still has many blog entries, something in the neighborhood of fifty or so. I have never used Acrobat Professional much so the thought of learning something new on a tight deadline wasn't attractive. Alternatively, I can try using OpenOffice, assuming it can treat PDF files as just any other graphic files. I know that in Photoshop Elements if I open a multi-page PDF file, I would have to tell Photoshop which page I want. Photoshop wouldn't automatically import all the pages and re-arrange them. Whichever way I cut it, the process seemed tedious, not to mention I have to put up with working with Windoze on my personal time.

Purely by chance, I came across the Save PDF to iPhoto option of the print window of Mac OS X. Ever since the first release of Mac OS X, the option to save anything printable on a Mac into a PDF file has been there. The resulting PDF may not satisfy the die-hard Acrobat superuser, but for daily use, it is just the ticket. No need to go out and buy Acrobat Pro or install a third-party piece of software. Have something to pass on to someone who may not have the programs you use? Save to PDF when you print it then email the PDF file to him. Not everyone has Microsoft Word and some of us outright refuse to use it - so PDF would be the perfect medium for exchanging data, especially if the info is for reading only. I don't know when the other PDF options became available, but in addition to simply saving something to a PDF file, there are now options to save PDF file to a particular folder (web receipts) and Save PDF to iPhoto. iPhoto is Apple's consumer-level photo management program. Plug in a digital camera and iPhoto automatically launches and offer to import the photos for you. Once imported, you can arrange the photos in many different orders, group them in folders, order printouts, etc. - all from within iPhoto. With the Save PDF to iPhoto, I was able to quickly convert my sister's rantings into picture files visible in iPhoto. The files were given some forms of filenames, possible from the first few words in the documents. I simply renamed them in the format of yyyy-mm-dd-a, where a is some suffix to further organize the files, as my sister sometimes published more than one blog entry for a given day. Not having to export the web pages to a file, then re-import those files somehow, saved me much time. It all has to do with barrier to entries. The fewer the steps in a process, the better is the process. In iPhoto, I kept all O's PDF files in one album, then order them by their titles, and finally printed them out on my duplex-capable (read: double-sided) HP laser printer. For the cover, I drew a picture of O sitting atop a famous arch. I don't think the "portrait" was very accurate, but O didn't seem to mind. To top it all off, I went to the nearby Staples store and got a pack of fancy paper (granite). Bind the whole thing together with Pro Zip spines and the package sure looks professional, at least IMHO.

I have decided not to divulge O's blog name. It's a world wide web, it would be fun if someone somehow makes the connection between Qaptain Qwerty and what's-her-name. In the screenshot showing Save PDF to iPhoto, I've used my ex-colleague Nurse2Be's blog, so no, Nurse2Be is not my sister O.

22 December 2006

Hùng Ca (Hu`ng Ca)

My re-kindled interest in Vietnamese music continues unabated with the help of the web. I've been searching for more tunes that I heard when I was in my teen or when I first came to the U.S. One particular tune I like is Trên Đầu Súng Quê Hương (or TDSQH for short), which in English means "On the Muzzle of the Nation's Gun". I must have heard it on some propaganda TV show some time before 1975. (As you may recall, April 30, 1975 was the day the South Vietnamese government was defeated by the Communist army from the North.) TDSQH is the type of music called Hùng Ca in Vietnamese, or Majestic Music. Something to rally the troops, to extol the virtues of the soldiers, to gain support for the government's war effort.

Tunes like these are not likely to be found in your typical music store, so I didn't even bother with iTunes Music Store this time. The best place I've found for these majestic Vietnamese tunes is http://www.bdqvn.org/ , where BDQVN stands for Biệt Động Quân Việt Nam or Vietnamese Rangers. The web site pays tribute to the special force Vietnamese Rangers and includes a page of popular majestic music. The tunes are in .WMA format, but the dynamic duo of Audacity and iMic took care of the work for me.

Feeling somewhat patriotic toward the late South Vietnam government, I sought and found the South Vietnam national anthem, or Quốc Ca. On the other hand, I also obtained the tune Hận Đồ Bàn, which is about Chàm, an old kingdom that was conquered by the predecessor of today's Vietnam. I think someone told me that the song was banned by the South Vietnam government. Maybe that was why I liked it - a forbidden fruit has its attraction.

20 December 2006

Nắng Chiều (Na('ng Chie^`u)

A few years ago I saw the foreign film Cyclo, by director Tran Anh Hung (Trần Anh Hùng) and starring Hong Kong movie star Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. The movie received much critical acclaims, although to me it's just a very dark and sad movie about post-1975 Saigon, aka Ho Chi Minh City. Life for a rickshaw (cyclo) driver was hard enough as it was, some thugs working for the rickshaw boss had to rob him of his rickshaw. To pay back for the robbed vehicle, Cyclo Driver had to enter the crime underworld to make the extra money.

There were many visually stunning scenes, but somehow the one that I remember most about the movie was where at some restaurant, a team of two male amputees performed the song NắngChiều to try to earn money. In wartorn Vietnam, amputees are usually war verterans. It certainly wasn't the first time I heard the song. Maybe it was the theater's superb audio system, or maybe it's just the mood the movie set me up in, I started to like the song very much. The first place I looked in trying to find the song was in my late father's CD collection. The song wasn't in there, as most my father's CDs were actually musicals, stories put to music. There were other Vietnamese pop music, but Nắng Chiều wasn't in them either. I don't know why I didn't search for it on the web, maybe back then I didn't bother exploring the MP3 format. A few days ago, the urge to have Nắng Chiều in my iPod somehow surfaced again. First thing I did was check the iTunes Music Store to see if it has the soundtrack for the movie Cyclo. Personally, I hate movie soundtrack CDs as they usually contain the one theme song performed in seven or more different ways - normal, fast, slow, with lyric, etc. But I want Nắng Chiều bad and I was willing to pay for it. Alas, iTMS didn't have the soundtrack. I live not too far from Chinatown, where there are some Vietnamese stores that carry Vietnamese music, but I don't have the time to just run out to Chinatown to flip through several CDs to find the song I want. Besides, I would have to know the names of the singer in order to locate the song. Next best option - Google.

Sure enough, with Google I learned that the songwriter was Lê Trọng Nguyễn. I also came across a web site with lyric for the song accompanied by a MIDI tune. MIDI means it's just an instrumental version, no lyric, kinda like Muzak. Next I found a WMA (Windows Media Audio, a format foisted upon the world by the Evil Empire aka Microsoft) of a performance by the singers Kim Anh and Doanh Doanh, first in Vietnamese then in Mandarin. Yet another version was totally in Japanese - I have no clue what it says, but it sure sounds good. In the end, no MP3, but that wasn't a problem. As long as I can play the music from the computer's built-in speaker, using the audio program Audacity and the iMic USB device I can capture it into an audio file. From Audacity, converting the audio into MP3 is just another simple step. So for now, I don't have a Vietnamese-only version of Nắng Chiều, but the three versions I have - MIDI, Vietnamese-Mandarin, and Japanese - will have to do. I'll make an effort to visit one of those music store in Chinatown in the upcoming weeks, too.

"Nắng" means "sunlight" and "chiều" means "evening" or "dusk", so "Nắng Chiều" can be loosely translated to "evening light" or "the light at dusk". Unlike American songs where the song title is repeated umpteen times in the song, in Vietnamese songs the title appears only once, sometimes not at all. With Nắng Chiều in particular, the phrase only appears near the very end of the song, in

Nhớ em dịu hiền nắng chiều ngừng trôi...

meaning "Missing you so much the evening light stop moving".

18 December 2006

Google Checkout

You found some good deal on the web, you fill up the shopping cart (figuratively, of course, as online shopping carts have no bottoms), and click on the Checkout button. Huh? Username? Password? What password? You try a few combinations of username and password, but none works. You had to resort to the Forget Password link, answer some challenging questions, then open a tab (I'm a Firefox user) in your browser, check your email for the new password. It's possible that you won't get to keep the new password. Hopefully you'll be able to set the password back to what you think it should be. In some extreme cases, you haven't been to this particular online shop for so long that you cannot even supply a valid username in order to retrieve your password via email. A familiar scenario? You bet! It's a very frustrating experience going to all the various shops on the web and be expected to cough up a username and password each time you check out. Surely you can set them all the same, but every now and then you may slip and forget to do so. Or even worse, some sites have different password requirements, e.g. the password must contain a number or maybe cannot have two consecutive characters being the same. Enters Google Checkout.

You establish a Google account and you have access to many of the services Google offers. Next time you are ready to pay for your loot, look for the Google Checkout button and use it. Instead of having to supply the username and password corresponding to that shop, just use your Google account's. That's it. No need to store usernames and passwords all over, either in Post-It notes or in PDA, just the one Google username and its password will do. During this holiday season, Google even offers a bonus to encourage people to use Google Checkout. Get something from Buy.com that costs over $30 and use Google Checkout to lop off $10! At the link of http://www.google.com/checkout/m.html , there are many shops to choose from. Even though my favorite Mac online stores are not there, I certainly won't mind switching stores just to make use of Google Checkout.

Google Checkout - it's a great idea whose time has come. Make use of it! (I know, it sounds like an advertisement for Google, but I like the service so much I'm doing this for free.)

16 December 2006

175 - Priceless '06

Last month, a colleague in the office, C, entered fatherhood. On the week that the baby was predicted to arrive, day after day, nothing happened. We jokingly compared the child birth to our normal workflow. Service Level Agreement (SLA) not met! Company losing millions of dollars everyday! Escalate!

The title of the cartoon is Priceless '06 - Priceless because it was inspired by the Visa commercial and '06 is short for 2006. Way back when I first started putting the cartoon series, I used the Priceless theme in referring to the privilege of working at home. You can see that 'toon here: Priceless-03

Originally, I wanted to show the baby sucking on TWO pacifiers. C thinks it's bad for babies to use pacifier so the poor thing has none - it would be fun to give him two in the cartoon. I actually have a photo of my son doing that, back when he still needed pacifier. Somehow the pacifier I drew didn't come out right, so I opted for a large milk bottle, because I overheard another colleague, Purple, saying that C's son was drinking more and more milk everyday.

C is the best chess player in the group so I threw in a few chess pieces in case no one recognizes his "portrait". Three out of four people who saw the portrait today knew it was C, so that's a good thing.

15 December 2006

The Price of Fame

I really like the book Flags of Our Fathers so here goes just one more blog entry related to the book.

Of the six Marines who were immortalized on film while raising the Old Glory, only three survived the war. Contrary to popular belief, overcoming Mount Suribachi was just the beginning of the Iwo Jima campaign. Days after the event, Mike Strank, Harlon Block, and Franklin Sousley all died in battle. John Bradley was badly injured and had to be taken out of action and ended up in a hospital in Guam. Only Rene Gagnon and Ira Hayes stayed in the war.

The Photograph, as the flagraising photo came to be known, was such a powerful icon that the entire U.S. was talking about it. People wanted to know who the soldiers were. F.D.R. then issued the order to have the Marines found to become celebrities in a new Bond Tour, to help sell U.S. government bonds to finance the Pacific War. After some initial difficulties, eventually all three surviving men were found. Being on Bond Tour at first was nice - top-notch hotels, rubbing elbows with movie stars and famous singers. fine dining, etc., just the opposite of fighting the Japanese on Iwo Jima's jungle. After a while, the work too became exhausting, with lots of road trips, repeating the same disclaimer that the flagraising was such a non-event. Each of the three Marines reacted differently though and their lives, after the Bond Tour, also came out differently.

Ira Hayes, being a Pima Indian, whose tradition discourages tooting one's own horns, was always the quiet one during the Tour. He tried to withdraw from the horrors of war by drinking alcohol, lots of it. His drunken appearance eventually forced the military to pull him out of the Tour. After the war ended, he did odd jobs during the day and get drunk at night. In the end, he was found dead and drunk.

John Bradley had always dreamed of being a director of a funeral home and did achieve the goal. He tried to live a normal life by not granting any interviews, for years, and never even answered the phone when reporters called. He rarely talked about his war experience. Being a medic on the battlefield, seeing young men dying and trying in vain to save them, permanently damaged him. Still, he had a somewhat normal life and was a great figure in his community, not through exploitation of his Iwo Jima fame.

Rene Gagnon and his wife tried to capitalize on Gagnon's celebrity status but got nowhere. The author stated that even though Gagnon didn't qualify for the state police, he could have used his veteran status to obtain training to become qualified. Instead, he relied too much on the sweet talk people gave him during the Bond Tour. "Sure, call me up whenever you need this and that...", many people would promise but never lived up to it. He got nowhere and was a janitor by the time he died of a heart attack. Since he didn't have enough medals he wasn't allowed to be buried in Arlington, but his wife made much noises and won in the end. She even made sure that his tombstone extolled his fame. Others, like Mike Strank, a.k.a. a Marine's Marine, who have contributed much more than him during battles, only got simple tombstones that made no fuss about their lives.

The story of Rene Gagnon sounds like some people I know in the office, except that my Gagnon guy is alive and well, living in the lap of luxury. Supposedly there's a chap in the group who makes as much money as me but I know for a fact he doesn't do much work. I know because someone who used to work with him always had trouble to get him to do his part of the load. How he clinched the deal to secure that salary is beyond me. It's a shame that too often it's not what you know but who you know that gets you a job.

12 December 2006

The Replacement Flag

Spoiler Warning: If you plan to see the movie or read the book, STOP! DON'T GO ON! Assuming the movie is a true rendition of the book, I'm revealing something that you may not want to know prior to seeing the movie.

End of Spoiler Warning.

I'm almost done with the book Flags of Our Fathers. I'm past the flagraising event and there sure are many interesting facts unearthed in the book. In the "historic" photograph of the six Marines raising the flag, it was really a non-event. It wasn't done during the heat of battle, with bullets whizzing past the soldiers as they planted the flag. As a matter of fact, no fighting occurred during the FIRST flagraising on Mount Suribachi either. That's right, the historic photo captured the second flagraising event. After days of fierce fighting, the Japanese either abandoned Suribachi or committed suicide deep inside the volcano's carved-out core. The Marines didn't know that and cautiously sent up a small group to plant a relatively small flag. The first flagraisers were Boots Thomas, Hank Hansen, Chuck Lindberg, and John Bradley. Military photographer Lou Lowery captured the images. It was this first flagraising that got the victorious combatants' attention. Down on the beach and up on the ships, Marines and Navy people cheered as the flag flapped in the air. Shortly afterward, some Navy bigshot mentioned that he wanted to keep the flag as a souvenir. Colonel Chandler Johnson of the Marines didn't like the idea at all and wanted the flag kept with the battalion. He ordered a replacement flag put into place. It was the planting of the replacement flag that Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press snapped on film. Unfortunately for Lowery and fortunately for Rosenthal, civilian film traveled faster than the military's, so it was Rosenthal's seemingly insignificant pictures that reached the U.S. first and became an icon overnight.

As it turned out, the historical replacement flag was left fluttering in the high wind of Mt. Suribachi for three weeks and became all torn up in the end. No souvenir for those @$#!* Navy honchos!

10 December 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

I am not done with the book Flags of Our Fathers but sure have learned a few things about recent American history. I love history, even though I know it's mostly written by victors. At least with American history, I get to know ugly chapters like those referring to the maltreatment of Native Americans.

The movie/book Flags of Our Fathers is about the lives of the Marines who raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi of Iwo Jima - a famous scene to anyone who knows anything about World War II. The men, or rather boys, were John Bradley, Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and Mike Strank. Personally, I can count at most only five people in the photo. The book was written by James Bradley, son of John Bradley. Through years of research about the six Marines and many people in any ways attached/related to them, with references to historical events, the book brought to light the climate at the time, the life, the characters' background and upbringing, the battle for Iwo Jima itself, the after-effect of the flagraising incident on the six Marines, a whole saga. I am only up to the end of D-Day, February 19, 1945, the day invasion of Iwo Jima (Sulfur Island) occurred, which is just a tad past half of the book. Here are some interesting facts I've picked up so far:

  • In comparing the different types of warfare being waged in Europe and Asia, the book mentioned that in the European theater, the fighting followed certain traditional "rules". For example, generals would call off the fighting at 5 o'clock in the evening or that there were time-out for medics to come out to tend to the wounded. On the other hands, Japanese fighters were told specifically to target medics to hasten the deaths of more U.S. Marines. Also, the Japanese soldiers would always fight to the death and would employ tactics such as the blowing themselves up as U.S. medics approached them to help, just to drag a few more lives with them on the way out of this world.
  • The Navy was mostly useless to the Marines. Bombardment before the invasion was ineffective, both because the Japanese were covered well in their underground network of fortress, but also because of the Navy's selfish crave for publicity. The Navy supposedly had already allocated ships to bombard mainland Japan to look good in the public eye and gave the Marines all kinds of excuses not to help with the bombardment prior to the invasion.
  • I read Helmet for My Pillow years ago and knew Guadacanal played some important role in WWII, but with FoOF I learned that it was on Guadacanal that the Japanese suffered their first defeat. At the hands of the Marines no less. Again, the Navy was of little help, as their ships withdrew from the beginning of the battle after losing some ships.
  • One recurring theme throughout the book was that many young boys went through much troubles to get into the armed force. Some lied about their age, others ate bananas to gain weight, and then some simply signed up even though they were not U.S. citizens. Perhaps it was great government propaganda. Or maybe it was just true patriotism, with Pearl Harbor as a background. Some people I know in Vietnam were not eager to join the war. One of my uncle, I believe who was already in the armed force, used some kind of eyedrops, made for the purpose, to make his eyes crossed so he could be discharged. Others he knew carefully blew up their own index fingers using hand grenades to make themselves unfit for battle. I guess it's one thing to be young, unmarried, and gung-ho, but it's a totally different thing to be drafted into an armed force run by corrupted government officials. It probably didn't help that these Vietnamese men probably already had wives and children waiting at home.

08 December 2006


I've been enjoying the Harry Potter series of book. My Wife has read all six books, from Sorcerer's Stone to Half-Blood Prince. I dutifully borrowed all the books for her from our local Brooklyn Public Library and also scoured the other branches to find the four Harry Potter movies. I was curious as to what was all the fuss and watched parts of some of the movies. Not having the background info and viewing the movies in pieces, plus the British accent, got me totally confused. Goblets of Fire was the only one that I saw the most of, but then the DVD was on hold for someone so I had to return it without finishing the movie. I've decided to read the books before going back to the movies. It helps NOT to have a photographic memory. Even though I saw the ending of some of the movies, while reading the books I was not sure how the endings would be arrived at. Or which ending goes with which book.

I've read books that are so slow and boring that I found it hard to finish. The Harry Potter series is just the opposite. I found myself engrossed in them, reading one chapter then another. It's got fantasy, parallels to the real world, comic relief, hope, on and on. No wonder the series was such a big bestseller.

Last week I finished Prisoner of Azkaban but didn't have the chance to pick up book #4. Then I started on Flags of Our Fathers and now have to make sure I finish that before I start on Goblet of Fire. I don't have much chance to go to the movie so I try to read the book version of the movie whenever possible.

One thing I noticed is that on the first book, there was a note at the end of the book stating that the author was a struggling single mother when she first started writing the book, or something to that effect. On succeeding books, the note only mentioned where she lives. I suppose she wasn't thrilled about revealing her unhappy past.

03 December 2006

Novell NetWare

I just completed a week of training on Novell NetWare 6.5. I first came into contact with NetWare at my previous job as network admin for a small department. It was NetWare 3.12 and now I'm using NetWare 6 but the basic hasn't changed that much. Over the past six years I've learned much about NetWare but never thought of going for a certification. Taking the course last week convinced me that I should. Most of the materials were not new to me. Sure there were topics like iManager and iPrint, basically Novell's attempt at making NetWare less reliant on Microsoft Windows. Microsoft has been known to purposely change its Windows architecture to make competitors' products stop working so Novell counts more on web browser technology, which hopefully is not locked down by MS. Have the proper web browser, some Java components, and theoretically you can most of the basic work of NetWare account administration.

The instructor advised us to take the CNA certification test within thirty days of completing the course. That means I must take it some time in December 2006, before the new year. It's a challenge but I will take it on. All ten or so of us students in the class signed up to get the voucher for the cert exam and the online sample exam. Whether management pays for it or not, I'll still go for it. It's about $100, something I can afford. I doubt passing it will make any difference with the current job, but I'm sure it will in future jobs. One other, noble reason for me to take the NetWare cert exam is to be there for any companies that need a certified NetWare expert. I hate Microsoft for squeezing market shares out of NetWare. Hopefully, with one more qualified NetWare expert, the conversion from NetWare to Windows server will be slowed down.

Not that long ago, NetWare was the king of networking software with some +70% of the market. Then Windows NT Server came along with its graphical interface and took away lots of business from NetWare. It's probably true that NT Server is easier to start but there's a lot more to a server than just setting up user accounts and shared folders. My work experience and the five days of training provide plenty of examples of NetWare's superiority over Windows. Everyday, I as a LAN Account Admin would create NetWare accounts and Windows accounts. For NetWare, there's nothing to worry about the new user's home folder. As long as I use a template with all the home folder properties defined, the home folder is created at the time the account is created and the user is given access to it. Not so with Windows. Even with ActiveDirectory, I still have to somehow manually created the home folder and set permission. I manage to make the process easier by using various KiXtart scripts to do the work, but if Windows can provide the choice of a template, I wouldn't have to go the extra mile in the first place. There might be some third-party plug-in to achieve the goal, but with NetWare it's already built-in, you don't need to spend extra money for it. Another very friendly feature of NetWare that I as a LAN Account Admin have come to appreciate is the last login date. I don't know how NetWare does it, but if I look at an account's last login date, then that's what it is - the last time the account was used to connect to the particular tree. Not so with Windows, NT or AD. The true last login date for a Windows account can only be determined after all the last login dates on all the domain controllers have been collected. Then from the list, one would extract the real last login date. Alas, if the Windows account is only used to map a drive, the act of authenticating during the mapping process doesn't trigger any records of the last login date. So, if Mr. John Smith every day maps to the resource \\server1\shared$ but never logins to any of the domains, his account appears inactive to the LAN admins. Per auditing requirements, the LAN admins would disable Mr. Smith's account and a whole series of detective work would go into high gear before the root cause of Mr. Smith's sudden loss of access is determined.

The class instructor was an interesting chap. He had long hair, told us he played in some band and drives a motorcycle. He told us that the user symbols in Novell products are faceless because the Novell corporate echelon consists of believers of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Supposedly, per LDS, inanimate objects have no soul and no face.