31 January 2007

Hasta La Vista, Baby!

From the Non-Existent News Department: "In a scene too similar to that of the PS3 release, long lines went around the block outside the local Best Buy stores - these people really wanted to be among the first to buy Windows Vista! Once the stores opened, copies of Vista went flying off the shelf and fights soon erupted in a few places..."; "On YouTube, the video clip titled 'See Me Smash My Vista' had a million hits five minutes after it was posted..."; "In China, the file-sharing network Mien-Fei had to be taken down after downloaders eager to get their free copy of a hacked version of Vista overwhelmed the site..."

Yeah, right.

Just the exact opposite happened. Only a few diehard Windoze geeks wasted their time at the midnight release of Windows Vista. The photo accompanying the Yahoo!News article about the release amused me - it showed a Chinese lion dance on stage at some release party. Vista was so bad that even if Microsoft purposely leaked out an unprotected copy of it for the Chinese pirates to pass around, it wouldn't go anywhere.

In other Windows-related news, my work laptop has decided to take a break from working. It would not completely load the desktop. The system tray only had the one VNC Server icon and the time of day - good to know it still cared enough to give me the time of day. Some icons on the desktop wouldn't show and one had a generic icon, meaning it for some reason couldn't find its source file. The Start button wouldn't respond so initially I would keep powering it off, in short, rudely killing it off. Upon booting up, it again went into the same cycle and got stuck with a non-responsive and incomplete desktop again. Somehow I thought of issuing Ctrl+Alt+Del to bring up the Windows Security window and chose Shutdown from there. Only then would the computer properly load the desktop. Sheesh, any average computer user would know that's another way to shut down a computer, right?

26 January 2007

In the Direction of NWDir

At work, I frequently need to find out whether Netware accounts exist for a given list of employees. The task can be accomplished with Bindview but I don't like that route for many reasons. Bindview's interface is very clunky and unintuitive. The export routines are still in the stone age of computing and can only save files in DOS' 8.3 format, i.e. eight characters for the name and a 3-character extension, such as RBusr107.csv (Retail Bank users for January 2007, in a comma-separated value text file.) What's more, with Bindview I need to login with a username and password, and because I don't use it often enough, I usually have trouble remembering it. The company doesn't have enough licenses to cover all the users in the Netware Directory Service, so to get a list of everyone in the tree means running multiple reports, on the different regions, and combine them afterward. I never figured out how to use Bindview's filter function to limit the resulting report to show just the users I am interested in. Lastly, it is a waste of time to have to make a list of everyone in the network and then go through that to find the ones I am interested in. The perfect approach would be some kind of codes that take from me a list and search just for them.

With ActiveDirectory or NT, I have found the necessary codes to look up the network accounts. GetObject(), whether bound to NT or LDAP provider, provides what I need. With Netware, there are very few code examples out there to learn from. I know it can be done because someone in the London office wrote a program, Novell Utilities, to add users to groups, all from just the username. I asked for the code of Novell Utilities, but the original programmer had moved on to some other position within the firm and his replacement could only send me the codes without any help. He sent me some VB project file that even after I gave myself VB6 I still couldn't read it. The replacement guy was so busy with whatever he had to do, I couldn't expect any help from him. Or at least that's what he said. So I forged on on my own, relying only on the search power of Google to find some code examples on NDS programming. Novell provides some reference materials, but without formal basic training and examples, they were totally useless. It didn't help that the company blocked access to Usenet groups. Usenet groups are the digital equivalent of public bulletin boards where people can post and read notices. There are all kinds of topics in Usenet and while many are technical-based, there are also many about dating, hobbies, politics, etc. topics that are best not be made readily available to the office workers to keep them unproductive.

I wrongly assumed that since Novell eDirectory is some kind of LDAP, I would find what I need by searching for Netware and LDAP, even GetObject and NDS. Finally, it dawned on me that since Novell Utilities requires some .ocx and .dll files to be registered, I should try to search for anything related to the names of the support files, namely NWDir. But it was only at home, on the Mac, that I managed to find references to NWDir in some Usenet messages. One big challenge with NDS is that to reference a user I would need to know the full path to where in the network the user is. For example, just SmithJ isn't enough, I have to specify John Smith's account as SmithJ.Accounting.NYC.Amer.Hercules, to properly identify the SmithJ account in the Accounting department of the New York office of the Hercules tree. With NWDir properly used, I can get the fullname from just the username and from then get all kinds of info about the user. I've cobbled together some codes and so far have not succeeded but I'll keep trying because I know NWDir is the right direction to take.

23 January 2007

iPod Fast Forward

Some time ago, I started to appreciate podcasts but also lamented the iPod's apparent lack of a way to fast forward or rewind, so to speak. While anything is played, podcast or music, it seemed the scroll wheel is used only for adjusting the volume. Or so I thought. One day, by pure luck, I accidentally pressed the center button, i.e. the hub of the scroll wheel. Instead of the volume indicator, which "fills up" from the left as the volume is louder, I saw a little diamond symbol riding a white horizontal bar. Rotate the scroll wheel and the diamond moves left or right accordingly, taking me to different positions within the podcast. So that's how you would fast forward and rewind an audio digital piece on the iPod! I am pretty sure the technique is mentioned somewhere in the iPod user's manual, if there is such a thing, but it's a lot more interesting to learn it by chance, especially when the need is at hand.

19 January 2007


I use Firefox all the time and I am very happy that Firefox coupled with the Flashblock plug-in has improved my online experience tremendously. However, Safari is still the default web browser on all new Macs sold. As a public service for the Mac community, I searched for a plug-in for Safari that would suppress loading of Flash animations. There were some shareware plug-ins out there, but I found a great freebie that does the job just fine, and another that isn't so great.

If you use Safari and are tired of those annoying Flash animation, I recommend that you get SafariPlus. Installation is a somewhat simple matter of (1) creating a folder called InputManagers inside your Library folder - if you don't already have an InputManagers folder, that is; (2) moved the SafariPlus folder, in its entirety, into the InputManagers folder. That is it. Not as simple as how Firefox handles plug-ins, but not too bad either. Start Safari and now you have the extra menu item called SafariPlus under your Safari menu. SafariPlus started out as a cookie manager but I won't get into that. Select the new SafariPlus item and go straight to the animation page. I strongly recommend selecting Never, meaning don't allow Flash anims to be loaded at all. Instead of the ads, now you will have just a placeholder, like that in the screenshot. If you really want to see the ad, just click on it. Or Ctrl click it and choose Rewind or Play.

The other Flash plug-in for Safari that I came across works but getting it to work is just too much... work. You would have to create a filter, supposedly for the various web sites you come across. I started doing so but after the fifth one or so I concluded that's just too much work. I think I managed to achieve a quick result by making a filter called *.swf*, which means any web links that contains .swf, the default extension of Flash file, would not be loaded. The star or asterisk ( * ) in computer lingo means one or more characters. So, http://www.blah.com/cool-stuff.swf , or http://www.bleah.com/yada.swf ?=sksksk,foo=kwkwke, etc. would all be prevented to have the Flash file loaded. It seems to be a good solution, but I think the average user shouldn't be expected to know that much.

So, plug that SafariPlus into your Library/InputManagers folder and your Safari experience will be much more enjoyable. The plug-in is freeware but the author John Chang noted that should you enjoy it, give something back, whether by doing some volunteer work, give away an app you wrote, or give him some amount of money, so take your pick of the way you want to give back.

16 January 2007

Harry Potter Completed

Last week I finished reading all the Harry Potter books in print and started anew with the movies. Though the movies are pretty good versions of the books, certain parts of the book had to be left out of the movie, maybe because of insufficient time. For instance, in the movie version of Sorcerer's Stone, nothing was mentioned about the bad feelings Snape had for James Potter, Harry's father. Then in the second movie, when Harry traveled by Floo Powder for the first time, he didn't have to hide from Lucius Malfoy when Malfoy entered the seedy shop that Harry had accidentally traveled into, all because he said diagonally instead of Diagon Alley.

With episodes about teenagers discovering the opposite sex, the book series definitely caters to the young readers. What I couldn't help noticing is the parallel between Adolf Hitler and the main villain Lord Voldemort. Voldemort's agenda is to clean the wizard world of all those who are not pure blood, derisively known as Mudblood. Interestingly, Voldemort himself isn't that pure, as only his mother was a witch, whereas his father was just a Muggle, or a non-magic person. Just like Hitler with his short statute and non-blond hair. Had I not know the author to be an English person, I would think she was referring the early United States of America, where people of all races were given equal chance of succeeding in life, well, theoretically anyway. Of course, nowadays, it would be political incorrect to put down any minority groups, so it sure cannot hurt to praise the melting pot every now and then.

14 January 2007

America Through The Outsiders' Eyes

While we were in Viet Nam, what little exposure we had about the U.S.A. was mostly through U.S. TV shows like Mission:Impossible, Ironside, Wild Wild West, Star Trek, etc. We knew that the Wild West was conquered while Star Trek only showed the future of a conquered universe. It was shows like Mission:Impossible that gave us a view of real life in America, well, real to the Vietnamese anyway, even if it was a bit skewed. We thought that everyone in America walk around the house in dress shoes. That all Americans were large in size. Imagine our surprise when we first met Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, or other Americans who were not gigantic. Perhaps if we were dropped somewhere in the mid-west our misinformation would be confirmed, but not in the melting pot of New York. We arrived on a cold January night, with snow on the ground from an earlier snowfall, so the situation further supported our wrong view that in America it's always cold. In South Viet Nam, the weather is always warm, albeit wet during certain months, so it seemed perfectly logical that in America, cold winter should be all year round.

The accompanied photo is from one of the early snowfalls we experienced. We were living in Elmhurst, Queens at the moment, which was our second home after the apartment in the Bronx. I know it's not the first snowfall because I remember clearly taking the umbrella to the #4 subway station to meet my mother during one heavy snowfall in the Bronx. Coming from a warm region like South Viet Nam, where there has never been snow, the early snowfalls were very interesting to us. I have other photos showing my teen self making snowballs. Nowadays, I still enjoy playing in the snow, with my son, but sometimes I cannot help groan about shoveling the sidewalk.

There He Is! Revised

I double-checked with my older brother T some of the memories I have about our first subway trip with the IRC social worker, as detailed in the previous blog entry. I sure had a couple of items wrong. I don't know how my brother does it, but he remember lots of things, usually things that I forget.

I was sure that the IRC social worker was a Caucasian man, but T said it's a Cambodian man. Also, it was me who shouted "There he is!", not my sister O. Lastly, T confirmed my suspicion that all of us had to duck under the turnstile bar to get into the subway station. We didn't know any better then, but now looking back we all agree he probably pocketed the three tokens that were meant for us. Recall that he did deposit one token, which I out of curiosity wasted by cranking the turnstile bar. Shame on you, Mr. IRC Social Worker!

12 January 2007

America - The Early Days

Ah, the early days of a new life. Unfortunately, I don't have much of them remembered. Sure wish I wrote them down sooner. Therefore, without further ado...

The Subway or Ổng Kìa!

A social worker took me and my three siblings from the office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to some place. Maybe we were going home after spending a morning at IRC filling out paperwork to get our green card, who knows. I think the social worker was a white male person, somewhat tall for our standard at the time. Our English was bad so we didn't fully understand him. At one point, maybe after stepping out of the elevator in the lobby, some of us thought we saw the social worker heading one direction, while others among us thought we saw he going elsewhere. We were probably among a sea of men in business suits and it wouldn't be hard to follow the wrong person. I think it was my eldest sister who shouted in Vietnamese, "Ổng kìa!", meaning "There he is!" Maybe it was the fear at the moment of being lost in a new city, this incident remains in my head until this day. Another memorable incident during this trip with the social worker happened at the subway turnstile. It was the first time we traveled by subway. As the four of us huddled together waiting for the social worker to led us in, he deposited a token and may have told my eldest sister to walk through. Probably out of curiosity, I spun the bar on the turnstile - and wasted the token. I cannot remember how the social worker reacted to my stupid action, but I know we all crawled under the bar to get past the turnstile.

Arms Folded and Head Bowed

Shortly after settling down in the Bronx, near the T intersection of Devoe Terrance and Webb Avenue, my sister V and I started attending JHS 143 John Peter Tetard School. Naturally, I was placed in an ESL class, although some in the class spoke decent English. I vaguely remember the teacher being a Ms. Young. Among the students, there were a couple of Korean girls, some Haitian girls, maybe some other Vietnamese or Chinese kids. During my early days at JHS 143, the school sent a Chinese chap to be my translator, but a few months later I learned of his Chinese accent and didn't need his assistance anymore.

In Vietnam, teachers are held in high respect, perhaps on the same level with doctors. In the classroom, when we answer the teacher's question, we are supposed to stand up, arms folded and head bowed, to show respect. I did the same when I first answered some question from a teacher at JHS 143 and gave the class a big laugh. To all those kids growing up in America, without the benefit of knowing Asian culture's high reverence for the teaching professional, it was probably a funny sight to behold. I don't recall of doing that again, ever.

10 January 2007

Coming To America

Today marks the 27th anniversary of my arrival in the U.S. I was in my early teen and accompanying me were my parents, my eldest sister O, my second older sister V, and my older brother T. We were fresh off the boat, figuratively speaking, or as it's said in Vietnamese, "chân ướt chân ráo", meaning one foot (chân) is still wet (ướt) while the other is dry (ráo).

We arrived at JFK International at night, via Singapore. It was a cold night, much like today. We came in clothes made for the warm weather of Southeast Asia. Our sponsor was Uncle P, a cousin of my mother, on her father's side. I think he brought us some winter jackets. We stayed at his home that night and for the next few days. The trip from the airport to his home in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, could not been very long, but somehow it made me feel nauseous. Unlike my eldest sister, I don't get motion sickness easily, whether it was an airplane ride or a bus ride from the city to the countryside, but the short trip in Uncle P's car got me.

The first few days of a new life should have been memorable, but after 27 years I don't have it all remembered. I know I enjoyed Uncle P's bathtub very much, after the months of living in the refugee camps in Indonesia. I played with my cousin E's toy boat in the tub for what had to be a long time, because eventually Auntie had to knock on the door to make sure I was OK.

One day while staying with Uncle P he drove me to a nearby school. I took English classes for a year before we left Vietnam but bookish learning and actually using/hearing English were two totally different things. I spent a day at the school and had no idea what happened. Perhaps Uncle P thought my family was going to stay with him for a few months. In reality, after about one week, the agency that provided the social service for us, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), found us an apartment in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. The area is now somewhat of a Little Saigon, but back then we were only one of the few Vietnamese families in the area. Most people were nice to us.

My mother may have a better collection of photos from those early days in America, but I only have this one photo. It was taken inside the late department store Alexander's, at the northwest corner of Fordham Road and Grand Concourse. Other than that piece of info, I cannot recall what was the special occasion.

Twenty-seven years. In the movie, many years can flash by in a second, or as sometimes said in Vietnamese plays, "mười lăm năm trôi qua", meaning "fifteen years floated by". In real life, sometimes upon looking back, the many years do seem to pass by very quickly. In those 27 years, some of us went on to secure higher education, obtained professional jobs, traveled all over the world, moved to different U.S. cities, and achieved the American Dream of home and car ownership. Well, one of us got into the I.T. field and now feels his job threatened with low-cost labor from India, but that's life.

Happy Anniversary to my family!

09 January 2007

Pangea Arcade

The Mac isn't that great as a game platform, at least for those 3D shooters or immersive role-playing games (RPG). Some popular games never get ported to the Mac or when ported are poorly done and don't take advantage of the Mac's capabilities. Not that I care that much about 3D shooters and RPG. I played games sometimes on my Mac, mostly word games (Bookworm, Text Twist), puzzle (Bejeweled 2, Frozen Bubble), platform (Pizza Panic), and some action (BreakQuest, Jets N Guns), but no RPG. I would love to be able to play something like Space Invaders but alas haven't found anything like that yet. Recently I bought Pangea Arcade and am very pleased with the extra feature it has - 3D! Pangea Arcade is a collection of three games - FireFall, Warheads, and Nucleus. FireFall is a clone of Centipede, while Nucleus is an imitation of Asteroids, and Warheads is a spin-off of Missile Defense. The game graphics are great and the 3D feel make them more enjoyable, although the 3D effect is most noticeable with Warheads, as shown in the screenshot. My only wish is that the games have adjustable levels of difficulty. When I plunk some money for a game, I want to be able to go through as many levels as possible or spend as much as enjoyable time with it. The human mind is no match for the computer brain when it comes to quick eye-hand coordination, at least to us middle-age men. I don't want to spend only a few hours with a game and can only get to only a certain level and never get any further. It seems like a big waste of money.

I know, I know, on the day that Apple Computer, uh, Apple Inc., announced all kinds of cool stuff, here I am, supposedly a Mac die-hard, only write about some not-so-new games. Well, I am just not that much into putting a computer into my living room (no thanks, AppleTV), or having my cell phone and music player in one device. Every now and then, I do accidentally drop my cell phone onto a hard surface, so I shudder at the thought of dropping one of those new iPhone. I do hope that maybe in a few months, Apple will come out with something like an iPhone but without the phone. I wouldn't mind carrying such a device in my backpack or winter jacket and whip it out whenever I need to listen to music, watch movie, or surf the web. But to hold something like an iPhone in one hand and risk having it knocked out of the hand to come smashing on the sidewalk or even snatched by a run-by thug, not me.

BTW, from now on, Apple Computer is known as simply Apple Inc. Apple no longer just makes computer software and hardware, but has branched into consumer electronics, such as the Apple TV and music, a la iTunes Store.

07 January 2007

MAD Fold-In Text

My latest "cartoon", shown in the previous blog entry, was inspired by MAD Magazine's fold-in inner back page. In case you are not familiar with MAD Magazine, the mag's inner back page is a foldable puzzle. When unfolded, the page would pose some question on a topic. On the page you would also find instruction on how to fold the page in - and voila you have the answer to the question, usually something completely off-topic or not quite what you expect.

The topic in my foldable cartoon was self-improvement in the new year to become a better I.T./office worker. We'll take our certification exams, we'll do our time sheet on time, work hard to exceed management's expectation, no more being a slob or a pain in the arse, etc. Or is that what people think? At least for us in the I.T. field where our company has opened up an office in Mumbai and slowly but steadily move jobs there, self-improvement is the least of our worries. It seems no matter how good you are, your salary is still five or more times that of your counterpart in Mumbai so you don't stand a chance of holding on your job much longer. So the question for the new year is, "Will I Still Have A Job?"

A long time ago, I used to do video editing on the lowly Amiga 3000 with a NewTek VideoToaster. It was before non-linear editing came into the picture and the work was very tedious. Everything was tape-based and one mistake would mean resetting many of the parameters, rewinding the tapes, etc. For the I.T. Insecurity video, I used my new Kodak Z612 digicam's video capability. As a first video, I didn't do any post-editing work with it, yet it still took a few attempts to get it right. I did my own voiceover and it wasn't easy. I mispronounced words here and there, even in this final video it sounded like I said "slope" instead of "slob", but enough was enough, I didn't feel like re-recording it.

I needed a place to host my video and naturally YouTube was the first name to come to mind. It is really easy to YouTube. Sure you have to be computer literate enough to know where your movie file is located. Create a free account, confirm your email, upload a video, then you'll just have to wait a bit, maybe 20 minutes, while YouTube's scripts prepare your handy work fit for the web. That's all there is to it. I made the mistake of not knowing that YouTube needs some time to prepare the file for the web, so when I clicked on the video I was told that the file was no longer available. So, be a little patient and the reward will be yours.

05 January 2007

Power Lunch

This past week, after the winter break, I resumed my volunteer reading program with Everybody Wins' Power Lunch. Through the Power Lunch program, office workers are paired up with reading partners at a nearby school. I had the same girl, "Myra", as a reading partner. We read a book from the Junie B., First Grader series, by Barbara Park. It's a new series for me, as before it was called Junie B. Jones, and the character Junie had a woman for a home room teacher, whereas now she has Mr. Scary.

Besides feeling good for doing a good deed, volunteering for Power Lunch gives me a chance to interact with kids outside of my family and relatives. I came to the U.S. when I was in my early teen and didn't speak much English to start with, so up to recently I didn't know what kids in elementary school read. I have a niece on the wife's side, but she is too Chinese and has troubles with English so she doesn't read English books outside of school assignments. With "Myra" and her friends, we read many Junie B. Jones books, sometimes Goosebumps (R. L. Stine), and occasionally Amelia Bedelia. Junie B. is a kindergarten girl who usually gets into minor infractions with the school principal. She does use lots of incorrect English - after all, she's only a kindergarten kid - but I always make sure my reading partners know about the bad English. Goosebumps books belong to a very special category. Instead of the usual linear storyline, a Goosebumps story can take on many twists and turns depending on how the reader responds to the options presented at key pages. For instance, if the main character is hiding but is about to be discovered, the options would be whether to jump out of hiding and make a run for it, or wait to be discovered. For each answer, the reader would go a certain page in the book to continue reading. It's mind-boggling how Goosebumps books are written. Amelia Bedelia books are about the girl Amelia frequently misunderstanding instructions. Some days when "Myra" feels lazy about reading, we would read Dr. Seuss and such.

From the Power Lunch orientation meeting, there are two things I find hard to forget. One was that whenever one adult reader finds himself/herself alone in the room with a child, he/she is supposed to step out of the room. Sad, but a necessary precaution, in these days of child molesters everywhere we look, whether as celebrities or figures of authority. The other, more pleasant memory of the orientation was that we adult readers should be selective of what we bring with as lunch. If we were to bring McDonald's french fries, we may find that it would be difficult for the child to concentrate. Maybe it was a joke, but it made me think of McDonald's whenever I go to Power Lunch. Every time I finish my volunteer session with Power Lunch, I would swing by the McDonald's in the mall to get myself a value meal. To me, Power Lunch has become synonymous with McDonald's.

03 January 2007


I was recently made a staff member of the online magazine ATPM (About This Particular Mac). On each Mac computer, under the Apple menu option, there's an entry called About This Mac. Select it and you'll be presented with a window listing basic info regarding the computer, such as CPU speed, OS version, amount of memory installed, etc. That's where ATPM got its name from. Very clever, I would say. After all, there are only so many puns you can make with apple core and cider.

For now, I'll stick with helping ATPM in proofreading whatever they send my way. I actually enjoy proofreading - maybe it's just an extension of my fondness for writing. Eventually, I'll submit reviews of software and hardware that I own, or maybe ATPM has stuff publishers sent their way. I'll also try to submit my usual single-pane cartoons, with a special emphasis on Mac computing, of course. ATPM does have a regular cartoon series, very well-drawn, but it's not Mac-specific.

This is not the first time I become associated with a Mac group. After my departure from Amuse (the New York Amiga Users Group), I got in touch with the MetroMac group, a local Mac users group in New York City. I have a few cartoons published in their newsletter, wrote one review, and helped proofread a number of articles. As with all volunteer work, it is hard to get people involved for the MetroMac Express newsletter. Lately, the newsletter has suffered from insufficient articles, delayed publication, and staff turnover. I'll continue to help out with MetroMac Express but it's discouraging that one month I was asked to help with proofreading and such, then another month there would be no news at all, then all of a sudden a newsletter is published. Also, with my cartoons, I like to stick to current events, but because of delay in publication, sometimes my joke loses its bite.

Here's to a happy beginning with ATPM.com!

01 January 2007

A Tip for the New Year

So, yet another year has rolled by. For years now, I no longer bother to watch, on TV, the ball dropping in Times Square at midnight, but I do follow a more practical tradition for the new year. I cannot remember where I picked up the tip, but it's a useful one.

On this very first day of the new year, pull out your checkbook and pre-write "2007" in the date field of about five or so checks. That way, the next time that you really need to write a check, it is almost impossible for you to write "2006" by habit. If you write many checks in a week, maybe you need to pre-write more checks.

Personally, I write very few checks nowadays. Most of the utilities bills are taken care of through direct payment. Credit card bills I pay at the ATMs inside my office building. Most of the rest of the bills are paid via credit cards, either on the phone or via the web. Sometimes I purposely use the automated system via phone just so I don't get distracted by the web/computer's many interferences, such as alerts about new email or banner ads on web site. So, occasionally, I do write a check and I would hate to fill out the check completely only to realize that I just used the past year's number.

Happy New Year!