30 June 2007


Last Friday, after dropping off my son at his music class, I walked about half a mile from Chinatown to SoHo to take a few shots of the iPhone frenzy outside the Apple Store. Lately, I've developed an interest in producing panoramas without the hardware, i.e. without a panoramic camera or lens. The picture above was made from four separate photos. I've learned that panoramas can be made more easily and more convincing if the individuals photos don't have objects in perspective. I actually took a total of six pictures but couldn't use the first two as they wouldn't blend well. Because of the building entrance (near the center of the photo), the long line of prospective iPhone owners was broken up shortly it rounded the corner. I got too easily discouraged and didn't snap more pictures. Perhaps I'll make up for it by capturing the Leopard release in October. Instead of my measly camera phone, I'll bring along a bona fide digital camera.

The panorama was put together using Photoshop Element's Photomerge feature. It did a pretty decent job, even if I had to manually place two photos. I tried other dedicated panoramic software, namely HuginOSX (open source) and DoubleTake (shareware), but didn't quite get it. HuginOSX looks totally incomprehensible to me, while DoubleTake, although raved about by a few bloggers, didn't work well with the set of photos I threw at it. It could be because of my photos.

26 June 2007

Berhala Revisited

I showed my son the drawing I made of Berhala and told him that it was a beautiful island, with beach, palm trees, and so on. He mistakenly thought we were there for vacation and said he wanted to visit it some day. I had to elaborate and explained that we were there as refugees, with little food to eat and lacking many basic needs, like electricity and running water.

The drawing was made on a dry erase board so eventually I had to wiped it away. That's why I scanned it into the computer. The digital copy will be THE original. J decided to reproduce my handiwork on paper. He did a decent job, too. I did tell him about a doctor who for some reason built his own little cave on the mountain. He remembered that piece of detail and showed the house on the mountain on the left. He even made sure the two public toilets were there. He went further and added a rowboat with the oars outside. I am glad to know he has inherited his drawing skill from me.

16 June 2007

Google Docs Redux

I originally played around with Google Docs just to see if it can really someday replace Microsoft Office. I'm among those who love to see Microsoft's monopoly be broken to bring them down. I hoped that Google Docs would succeed one day, but didn't see how that would come about.

Recently, I have the idea of trying to collaborate with my siblings on documenting our journey from Viet Nam to the U.S. Lots of time when we get together, the talk would gravitate to how we managed to survive the boat trip out of Viet Nam, the living condition on the various Indonesian islands served as refugee camps, and our early days in America. Naturally, as we got older the details got murkier. So, before we all become senile, we decided that we should write it all down. Easy said than done. Surely, I can type up something, and I believe I did write it in my PDA. But then one of my sisters live in another state and can only visit us once a year at most. We need a mean for us to collaborate over the Internet and Google Docs is the answer.

My out-of-state sister already has a Google account so it was easy to send her an invitation to our Great American Novel that I've started. I'll just have to help my other sister and my brother open a Google account and then it's all up to them to contribute to the project.

The project will have details like exact dates, or as exact as we can recall, and other personal info, so it's highly unlikely I'll ever publish it for the general public to see. It'll remain a personal project for the four of us to read/edit. No need to give all those crooks on the Internet additional info.

However, from time to time, I'll share some snippets like the one below. Refer to the picture above for the physical features of Berhala Island as described in the text.

Of all the Indonesian islands that we stayed at, to me Berhala is probably the most memorable. It was the first island that we had a place to call home. We were lucky to bump into Grandaunt Luck, whose family was scheduled to be moved to Galang. Instead of selling the hut that they've built for themselves, they let us have it for free. It wasn't much of a home, but there was a front yard with a well to draw water from, a wooden bed for us to sleep on, a shower, and a kitchen area. Everything was made of some forms of woods and coconut leaves covered the roof and the "walls".

The hut was in a dead end street. A few times native Indonesians who wandered into the cul-de-sac would pretend to be visiting and stand around and engage us in broken English. Broken English on both sides, of course, because we ourselves only had a year of English before leaving Viet Nam.

Not too far from us was a stretch of sandy beach that, on the left (if you face the ocean), led back to the boat landing area. Unlike the neighboring Letung Island, Berhala was too small and insignificant to have its own dock. Rowboats would just beach themselves to let the passengers off, then the rower would push the boat back into the water and hop on the boat as the boat reached deeper water. To the right of the beach is one of the two mountains on the island. One time, along with a few other kids of the same age, I went all around both mountains. The mountain nearer to our hut, in whose shadow we lived, ended at the public toilet facing the Tulai Island. I'll arbitrarily call this toilet #2. There's a smaller stretch of beach there, but with the public toilet right there, I doubt if anyone ever bother to wade into the water. The second mountain started where the short beach ended and ended at the other public toilet, the one that faced Letung Island. Again, I arbitrarily assign the #1 designation to this toilet. Somewhere between the toilet #1 and the boat landing was an underwater walkway. On low tide, adults and teenagers could walk from Berhala to Letung. At the deepest point, the water was up to my chest. Back then I had to be already at least five feet tall. I used that walkway at least once. The island's natural beauty was pretty much intact and I was able to see the coral underwater in many places along the walk.

14 June 2007

Crossword Express

It's been more than a week already and I still don't have the offer for the File & Print job. I guess I'll just have to wait for the bureaucrats to do their bureaucratic business.

So a few months ago, I had a renewed interest in doing crossword puzzles. Naturally, I wanted to make them myself. It's one thing to do them and it's quite another to make them. Years ago when I first started playing the puzzle and wanted to make them, I found it to be very difficult. Making the classroom puzzles, in which the shape of the puzzle is not a square and words are not continuous, with one-letter boxes with no definitions allowed, is easy. Making newspaper style where there's a symmetry to the puzzle, with the shortest word length of three, is much harder. I recall buying a DOS crossword maker on 5.25" floppy disk. I even filled out some form, wrote a paper check, mailed the whole thing in, and waited a few weeks for the ware to arrive. I do not recall ever trying the software seriously. I don't know what happened then, I was a single guy with an undemanding job, with no family and few other responsibilities.

Flash forward to the year 2007. This time around I need a Mac program to make the puzzle. There are not that many choices, really. Again, to make classroom puzzles there are a few choices, but I can even use online program like http://puzzlemaker.school.discovery.com/CrissCrossSetupForm.html , no need to spend any money. My search ended with Crossword Express OS X (cwe OS X). While the interface is somewhat awkward and not pretty, it's a strong program that allows for customized dictionaries in addition to standard ones. Choose an existing grid or make your own, plug in some words that you want to be included with their definitions, then cwe OS X will fill in the rest for you. For my purpose, I needed to make a puzzle that includes words about my office life, the CNA exam, and computing in general. I entered the relevant terms and definitions into three separate dictionaries, then used cwe OS X's Construct Special Interest Puzzles feature to make the puzzle. I chose my three custom dictionaries as three sources for the program to draw words from, then whatever open is filled with words drawn from the English dictionary. cwe OS X actually can handle up to four custom dictionaries. If I had more time, I would have created a dictionary just for words related to the Mac.

The puzzle below, printed to poster size, is the current occupant of the whiteboard I usually decorated with my cartoons. I had much fun making up the definitions. For example, "You should get yours up-to-date" is the clue for RESUME. I'm not sure if the acronym PODS made it in, but I know I define it as "It's supposed to help you plan your career, if you are still here a year from now." PODS is the web-based tool to carry out performance review, which in my opinion is just a waste of time. Ideally, the puzzle should be about 21x21 in size and not have one-letter, undefined "word". Unfortunately, such puzzle would contain very few references to the three custom dictionaries. If I have more time, I would define more terms for the custom dictionaries, perhaps then 21x21 puzzle would be better. For now, I have to be content with this Huge gride and the many one-letter undefined words.

For security purpose, I've Photoshopped the picture that represents the puzzle and clues to not have some references to corporate info.

07 June 2007


When I made my first million through Blogger and Google AdSense, my eldest sister wants to get into the act, too. Her blog is at http://top-of-the-arch.blogspot.com , has been raking in tons of money ever since. I simply don't know how she does it...

Seriously, no one I know has become millionaires with Blogger and AdSense. However, it is true my sister has a blog at the link mentioned. Her jumping on the blogging wagon was indeed influenced by my blog. She was already writing regularly for the local media and was thinking of having her own web site to promote her writing, so blogging, for free via Blogger, was the sensible next step.

Whereas my blog entries are not long but more frequent, sis' are long and entered weekly, but very detailed. Armed with Wikipedia and other meatspace reference materials, her entries give her adoring fans exact names and dates, background info etc. Especially when it comes to contact sports. Sis loves football and hockey, plus a dozen other sports. Once in a while, she also sprinkles in a story or two about our early days in the U.S., so if you don't get enough about my early days on U.S. soil, you can get the same story from a different perspective. There were stories that I didn't know at all, whereas there were others that I had an idea of. I suppose if I am her younger sister, we could have a heart-to-heart sister-to-sister chat, but such as the case, I'll just get the story a nugget at a time through her blog.

Do visit top-of-the-arch and click on those context sensitive ads to help finance my sister's goal of seeing the home games of all thirty NHL teams. It'll be a treat if you share her passion for sports, but I'm sure there are other stories you may find interesting.

03 June 2007

Google Street View

I love maps. It might had started when I took English class in Viet Nam, in preparation for our eventual departure from Viet Nam as boat people. The English class was actually just the living room of a neighbor. There was a big table in the center but perhaps because there were too many students I found myself most of the time seated at a desk in the same room. Under a clear sheet of glass on the desk was a world map. When I was bored or didn't feel like following the class, I would read the map. The one year of English class we had really helped us later on as we settled in the U.S., but for me I also learned a lot about world geography.

I've used Google Maps from time to time, either online in a web browser or from the Mac app (Google Earth). Google Maps was recently improved with the introduction of Street View. Let's say you plan to travel to some city and want to have a view of the place at street level. With Street View, you can pick the location and have a 360-degree view of the location, as if you are standing there. Not 100% like being there, as the views are usually from the middle of the block and at the intersections, but it's still good. Right now, Street View doesn't cover every street there are, but I suppose that will change. In my neighborhood, so many family houses have been razed to make room for condos. It would be nice to have the old views saved via Street Views for posterity.

Street View is an issue for privacy advocates. In the news, it was mentioned that some pictures in Street View showed a man picking his nose, protests at abortion clinic, homeless people, etc. For me, as a dweller of a big city, that's just the typical street scene, but I can imagine it can be a big deal for people from smaller towns. Google does offer an easy way to report any offending pictures. I wonder if Google already has an army of Photoshop experts to doctor the images to remove the offending elements. Or would they just have the photographers re-visit the locations?

02 June 2007

The Tooth, The Whole Tooth, Nothing But The Tooth

My son lost his first baby tooth while we were on vacation in China this past April. It came out relatively painlessly. J is very afraid of pain so after many days after the baby tooth got loose, he still didn't want to force it out. Then the adult tooth reared its head and it was time for the baby tooth to go. J came up with a plan himself - eat an apple while watching a movie. We just picked up in Guang Zhou a whole season of Ultraman Dyna on VCD, so that was the movie of choice. I had to play around with our relative's Windoze XP PC to have the movie play just right. So J enjoyed his movie and nibbled on the apple every now and then... and poof, it actually happened. The tooth came out, stuck to the apple. J bled a little bit but otherwise there was no problem. Whew! That night he put the baby tooth under his pillow and I got to play tooth fairy. I slipped him $20 U.S., which he gave to Mommy for his college fund.

This week a second baby tooth broke off, but it took a lot more effort. The first apple didn't work, neither did the second apple. It was so loose that it could be bent at a 90-degree angle. I let J use a dental floss but that only made the gum bleed. I joked with J about using more drastic measures, like tying one end of the string to the tooth with the other end to a window then slam the window down, but it only got him upset. This kid has no sense of humor when it comes to his physical pain. Finally, during some activities at Boy Scouts on Friday, the tooth came out by itself. J saved it in his shirt pocket and again slipped it under his pillow at night. I happened to have only a $5 bill on me so that was all he got. The next morning, he found the fiver and remarked, "Hey, only $5, but not bad." What a joy to be a kid...