30 September 2007

Tunnel To Towers Run - Completed

Yesterday, I was supposed to take a long break from work to go pick up my Tunnel To Towers T-shirt. I had Google Calendar sent me reminders, but it is one thing to see reminder email message and it is another thing to actually read them and take action. It turned out on Saturday I totally forgot about the T-shirt pickup until like 8 p.m.! I went to bed feeling crummy about being old and forgetful. Supposedly there would be only a limited number of T-shirts at the finish line.

Like the NYC Marathon, one of the bad part of the TTT Run is the wait at the beginning. Unlike the Marathon, which was practically in the middle of nowhere in Staten Island, with the TTT Run, I killed time by walking along Henry Street from 2 Place to Atlantic Avenue. The area is very nice, with lots of beautiful brownstones with well-maintained front yard. I spotted the two public playgrounds on the same block with the Long Island Hospital, something to keep in mind if I ever will be in the neighborhood with my son. The race was supposed to start at 10 a.m. sharp but probably because of the Tunnel as the bottleneck, runners were allowed to start in groups. I actually started at 10:40.

Although I usually ran 3K and sometimes ran 4K not feeling extra tired, perhaps because I started out too fast I quickly felt tired. It helped that there were firemen with American flags lined up near the tunnel exit to cheer us on. I thought once I made it out the tunnel it would be over soon. It turned out that, perhaps to make the race an even 5K in distance, we had to make a big loop through Battery Park City. Again, the cheerleaders, the real kind and other kind, helped, but many times I thought of taking a break and walk the rest of the way. Fortunately, I didn't, and even sprinted once the balloon arc symbolizing the finish line came into view. I finally got my race T-shirt and there was plenty of food and drinks for all.

I wished I had time to stay longer after the race to listen to all the speeches and to show appreciation of the FDNY. But I had a pile of computer junks at home to cart to the electronic recycling event at Keyspan Park. I made it just in time, too. Afterward, I even had the energy to walk half of Atlantic Avenue for the Atlantic Antic street fair. What a great way to spend a beautiful autumn day...

23 September 2007

Job One

Today I visited my old neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens. For years, I lived in Elmhurst, Queens just south of the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst border. For those who don't know, Queens is one of the five boroughs of New York City. Only in Queens people specify their towns in their mailing addresses. People in the other boroughs would simply list their borough name followed by NY, such as Bronx, NY or Brooklyn, NY but in Queens, you get things like Elmhurst, NY, Woodhaven, NY, or Utopia, NY. Of course, nowadays the zip code makes it pointless to specify anything at all, but the Queens people like their towns so much they want it that way, at least that's what I read in some pro-Queens free newspaper.

Even back in the early 80's when I lived in Elmhurst, Roosevelt Avenue was already the commercial strip of the area. We did our shopping, grocery or otherwise, along Roosevelt and even went into Jackson Heights to use its post office, movie theaters, and public library. South of us we had Broadway's commercial strip but it was much farther than Roosevelt Avenue.

Much of Jackson Heights has changed since I moved out of the area. Many mornings before school I would sit by the window looking for my schoolmate Mario walking toward my building. He would walk through an alleyway connecting Denman Street and Roosevelt Avenue to meet me and we would walk to school together. The alleyway has long since disappeared, blocked off by some new building. Seventy-fourth street has long ago become India Town, all the stores either sell fabrics or some other merchandise catered to the Indian population. There used to be a department store, children's department store, I would even venture to guess, at the northwest corner of 82nd Street and 37th Avenue. The place is now home to many little stores, on the 37th Avenue side. I think some church school occupies the rest of the old department store.

The site of my first job ever, at the corner of 86th Street and 37th Avenue, is still around. The lousy camera in my lousy cell phone failed miserably at capturing the street signs. The store is now called something and V Bagel Cafe but it was called Hot Bagel when I worked there. A friend of my father had part ownership in the store and somehow I got a job at the store one summer. On the first day, I made $14 for working seven hours. I thought it was too much and refused to take the money, but took it in the end. What a dumb kid I was.

At the bagel store, I made bagels from ready-made dough, sprinkled with the various toppings (sesame, poppy, salt, etc.), slid the uncooked bagels into the oven, and took them out later. I also did some cashier work, food delivery, and floor-sweeping. I learned how to make bagel pizza - basically flattening out the dough, spread tomato sauce and sprinkled shredded cheese on the dough, and put in the oven as usual. I discovered the joy of eating a nicely toasted bagel with Philadelphia cream cheese spread on.

I enjoyed the free food and drinks at the store. One time, I had a pint-sized carton of orange juice while the big boss was around. Next time I wanted to have a pint of OJ, the boss got me a half-gallon and wanted me to drink from a cup. He probably wanted me to use the half-gallon for the whole week, instead of a pint each day. I ended up drinking the whole half-gallon in a day. Oh, well, I'm sure Mr. Boss made lots of money off of my cheap labor already.

I think I gave all the money to my parents. Life was much simpler when one didn't have to keep up with the latest operating system or the latest electronic gadget. I didn't have to worry about clothes or girls - at least not yet. At some point, for reason I cannot remember, my parents didn't let me work at the store any more. Maybe it was because they figured I needed to pay more attention to school. They only wanted me to have a little exposure to the working life during the summer break, but not to work during the school year.

The bagel store looked different. It now had a few tables and chairs. I didn't go inside to see if they still make the bagels on premise. Management probably changed a few times in the intervening years. However, I still remember well how I reacted in my silly way when presented with the $14 cash that I earned for the day.

14 September 2007

Tunnel To Towers Run

I've signed up for the 5K Tunnel To Towers Run, scheduled for Sunday, September 30. Every year before, I would know about the Run in the news, after it had happened. So last year I entered a reminder in my Google Calendar. I totally forgot about it but the Google brain didn't and sure enough a reminder was sent at the scheduled time. I even managed to sign up early enough to avoid the $10 late fee.

The Run commemorates Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Firefighter Stephen Siller's last heroic act. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Siller was already off-duty but tried to get back to work when news of the World Trade Center terrorist attack reached him. He tried to drive into Manhattan from Brooklyn but wasn't allowed to. He then ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the WTC site, in full FDNY gears, and was last seen at West and Liberty Streets in Manhattan. He probably entered the WTC inferno and perished with all of his squad. The Run retraces his steps from the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel through the Tunnel to the WTC site.

Heroic tales inspire me. Some people say that raising kids and just doing one's part in life is heroic enough. I disagree. There are heroic and non-heroic acts and Siller's last action was heroic. The pro-Jew New York Post calls every U.S. soldier in Iraq a hero. While it's great that some people give up years of their civilian life to serve the country, there are still differences between the guy who runs through enemy fire to rescue comrades versus some guy who just drives an armor truck in a convoy. Along the same vein, in the argument of having a separate memorial for firefighters who lost their lives at the WTC, apart from the regular office workers, I'm all for the separation. It is definitely sad that many people lost their lives, but I think those who risked their lives to save others, and died in the process, deserve a higher recognition.

Perhaps from my teen years reading propaganda literature of the Vietnamese communist government, I fancy myself someday doing some heroic works. I certainly didn't go through with the wish one time in Brooklyn. At that time, we lived in northern Brooklyn, near the border of Queens. It was, and still is, a bad neighborhood. One night my father was coming home late so my mother and I waited for him at the subway station to walk home together, strength in number and all. During the wait, some drunk guy was in the station with us and some other guy showed up. They had some argument and a loud noise was heard. My mother and I were not far from the two. As the argument progressed, I inched toward the exit to the street. When the loud noise happened, I ran up the stairs very quickly, leaving my mother behind. By the time I came back the two guys have disappeared somewhere. My mother still mocks me every time and I cannot blame her. I guess I'm not made for heroic acts.


06 September 2007

Notes Nicknames

Lotus Notes is the mail system in use in my office. When I first started with the company about seven years ago, our email name was just the first name followed by the last name. Then we had a big merger and all of a sudden there are more than one Joe Block and Jane Doe in the firm. To make the names unique, middle initials were introduced, first with the dot then without. Someone could start out as John Smith and if there's a new John Smith then the new guy would be named John X. Smith, unless he has his own real middle initial. A third John Smith might come along after the abandoning of the dot, so that he would be John Y Smith. All this is fine for all those people with common first names and last names, but what if the people I know have unique names, like Albus Dumbledore or Severus Snape? What can I do if I just want to address these two as Dumbledore or Snape, respectively?

The answer lies in the use of the Personal Address Book (PAB). Instead of trudging through THE central Address Book, you can create your very own address book, entering the names individually or copying them from the central Address Book as the need arises. Once you have an entry in your PAB, you can customize it to your heart's content. In Albus B. Dumbledore's case, I'll just call him Dumbledore. Who cares if he has a brother name Aberforth? The brother only came out in the last Harry Potter series so the name Dumblebore automatically refers to Albus. I can never remember whether Dumbledore's middle initial has a dot or not anyway, so just Dumbledore does the job. Likewise, I don't care that there are other blokes named Harry out there, I want to address Harry J Potter simply as Harry.

As shown in the screenshot, what I did was I made my Dumbledore entry to have no first name and no middle initial. Just the last name. For Harry Potter to be just Harry, I would make Harry his last name and again provide nothing else. Then whenever I want to address these magical characters, I just enter the short version and press F9, then the real address would show.

I like the discovery I made on my own but thought there should be another way around it, something more direct. Sure enough, as pointed out at http://www.alanlepofsky.net/alepofsky/alanblog.nsf/dx/nicknames , the proper way to make use of nickname is to enter them in the Short Name field in the Advanced tab. To use multiple nicknames for the same person, you would enter the variations in the Full Name field, keeping each variation on its own line. Still, I like my way better because I can make the change right there when I open up the entry. Also, in the list view, all my entries would appear sorted exactly the way I think of them. With the way Alan Lepofsky pointed out, in the list view Dumbledore would still appear as Albus B. Dumbledore and not as Dumbledore.

In my real address book in the office, I have entries for Teary, Purple, Lone Gunman, plus a bunch of other first names that are either unique, such as Inna or Magnus, or belong to people in my immediate group.

Oops, I did it. My fans don't want to read about boring computer stuff but I wrote on the topic anyway. Oh well.

05 September 2007

Goodbye, Hallows

A few days ago, I deleted the entry "Borrow HP from lib." from my To Do list. I also canceled a hold I placed on the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with the New York Public Library. Like the previous Potter books, I didn't want to spend the money on the book - it's good but not good enough that I would read it over and over. Might as well just borrow it and return it when done, save a little room in the house, a little money in the wallet, and last but not least, earn a point for the anti-consumerism movement. Remembering how hard it was to finally borrow a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (the Potter book before Hallows), I didn't want to bother trying to borrow Hallows until a month after it came out. Just when the time came, my Wife informed me one of her nephews bought the book but won't read it. It was all mine for the asking...

I went through the book in less than a week. This time around the story takes place mostly outside of Hogwarts. As a matter of fact, for the a big part of the story, our heroic trio (Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley) really live like homeless, magical homeless, yes, but still homeless. The recurring theme, that all creatures are created equal, is there, with Wizards, Elves, Centaurs, etc. in the end fighting side-by-side against the Dark Lord and his idea of Pure Blood. The usual comic relief moments are there, too. Also as the trend with each new book, more and more characters die. You might have heard of the rumor that a major character dies in the last Potter book. It is true, but not to worry, it's a magical novel, lots of thing can happen by, well, magic.

I finished the book at almost two in the morning. The next morning, I had a nagging question: "In the Battle of Hogwarts, where did Neville Longbottom get the Gryffindor Sword from?" It was supposedly in the possession of the the goblin Griphook. Thanks to the web, I got my answer shortly. You just have to be a true Gryffindor, with bravery etc., to be able to pull the Sword out of the Sorting Hat. Yup, the Sword can be locked up somewhere somehow, and just because you are a true Gryffindor, it will be in your possession when you need it. Don't forget, lots of things happen by magic. How I wish I can pull a few million dollars out of my wallet whenever I need the dough...

04 September 2007

The Last Weekend of Summer 2K7

Ah, the last weekend of summer 2007 is gone. It sounds poetic and dramatic but really for me, as I have long been out of school, summer doesn't really mean much. I don't have any extra days off, unless I take time off. I still have to go to work five days a week.

Originally, Wife wanted to go shopping in Crossing Mall way out in Pennsylvania, but luckily she changed her mind and wanted to go to Queens Center in Queens. This is not the Queens Center that I know from my years of living in its neighborhood, first in Elmhurst then in Woodhaven. The, to me, still new Queens Center doesn't occupy just one city block but instead stretch over a huge block, in addition to the original mall. Still, I always get a headache whenever I visited the mall. Perhaps it has to do with boredom or maybe the recycled air inside really does harm to one's head. It won't help if I keep my Son in the play area in the basement. I absolutely hate the play area anyway. It's too small relative to the mall's size and is way overcrowded. It is not well maintained and kids, big and small, would run all over. It's lawsuit haven, but the mall probably has a safety net clause somewhere.

It was a beautiful to be outside, so I only dropped Wife and her relatives at the mall then Son and I went to the park. In my years living in Woodhaven, I spent many morning commute in my father's taxi cab going from Woodhaven to the Williamsburg Bridge. Most of the time, Father drove along 80th Street, which has relatively less traffic than Woodhaven Boulevard. I passed by Juniper Park many times but since I didn't live in the area, never once visited it. Fast forward to the present, now I had an excuse to visit it, for my Son. First we visited Juniper South Playground and had ice cream from Mr. Softee. When Son was bored, I thought of driving to some other park along Woodhaven Boulevard, but instead happened upon the bigger Juniper North Playground. Son had some more fun running and climbing the newer playground structures, but we also watched a game bocce. At first I thought it was lawn bowling, but then learned that with bocce the bigger balls don't necessarily touch the small one (pallino). Son wanted to have a throw at it and I even casually asked one of the old man if Son could have a fling but the man turned me down. It's probably a tight-knit club that doesn't welcome outsiders.

Finally it was at around 3 that Son agreed to have lunch. Instead of the usual hustle of Queens Center's crowded food court, we enjoyed a nice meal at Andrew's Pizzeria on nearby Eliot Avenue. I had a Sicilian square while Son had spaghetti meatballs. All without having to fight for a table or having to deal with the overflowed trash containers at the mall.

With extra time on hand, I took Son to yet another playground, the Greenhouse Playground in Forest Park, Woodhaven. There wasn't much to do in Greenhouse Playground, other than watching some kids do stunts on skateboards and mountain bikes. I knew the Park has a working carousel but doubted that it would be open on the holiday. In fact, it was open and running, its music just not loud enough to reach far. Son rode on the thing three times, costing me a total of $4.50. He also had some snacks and drinks. The last activity of the day was to pretend to perform on Forest Park's Band Shell. I convinced Son to pretend playing a guitar with his newly bought inflatable hammer. There were a few other kids around so they played together. Then my cell phone ran and it was Wife et al, they were finally done with their shopping. Just in time, too, as a bunch of teenage kids started to swarm the Band Shell to practice jumping off the stage, without regards for all the little kids nearby.

It wasn't the typical way to end summer. I didn't have any BBQ or hang out with a bunch of people. But for me, avoiding an unpleasant stay in the mall and spending quality time my son was the kind of great time I like to have.