31 December 2008

Resolutions 2009

I just reviewed the resolutions I made for 2008 and not surprisingly, I did not stick to any of them. I might have had a short period when I actually went to bed at 11 PM and got up 6 AM the next day to go jogging, but alas it did not last that long. I did not get any handier around the house. I drew a whopping handful number of cartoons, not the twelve I should have done for the months of the year. And so on. What can I say, resolutions, rules, promises... they all are made to be broken. But what the hey, I'll make another list for 2009, a shorter list, with preferences for things I want to do and things that I need to do.

  1. Health is a popular topic for resolutions, so here again I would like to make it the top of the list. Yes, I will try again to have better sleep hours. On those mornings that I stayed up til 1 AM the previous nights, I felt really crappy. Why I kept doing it to myself I don't know. Early to bed, early to rise, let's hope it will come true in 2009.
  2. I hate my job so much more lately I really need to change career. Again working with the slippery concept that I can succeed in the cartooning world, I will again try to put more effort into it. It is no longer true that I don't have any ideas of what to draw. I actually have two right now, one with the punchline "I want to make my numbers look good", as in when managers make their underlings do ridiculous things just to arrive at some numbers on their dang reports, regardless how wasteful of the underlings' talents. The other has the punchline, "If you do not stick your head in, you won't get whacked." Like those times when you are supposed to be off from work. As long as you don't appear on Instant Messaging, nobody will ping you. Whatever, here's hoping for twelve cartoons for January through December of 2009.
  3. Learn a new technical skill. My job has gotten so tiresome there is no time to learn anything new. It always is sink-or-swim. Work just piles on and on and mistakes will be made. Or poor maintenance will occur. Working in parallel with my cartooning path, I want to pick up some new technical know-how. There are many free computer-based training courses on the corporate network. I will just need to invest some of my own time to take them. Maybe some of those courses will even help me earn a few points in Yahoo!Answers.
  4. Be more organized in meatspace. Spend at least a day each month de-cluttering my room. My house does not get any bigger with time, so the stuff in the house must be cleaned up more frequently. There is only so much room for so much stuff.
That is all. Instead of ten things that I cannot fulfill, for 2009 I am less ambitious and have just four things to not fulfill. What are your resolutions?

29 December 2008


Have you noticed the new addition to my sidebar? Yup, I'm a Yahoo!Answers junkie. I cannot recall how I got into it as I haven't used any Yahoo! service for a while. I didn't touch my Yahoo!Mail for a while until I got Mail for the iPod touch, and even then I rarely bother to check it. Yahoo!Groups is somewhat clumsy compared to the more robust groups in Facebook. My GeoCities web site, if it still exists, is probably under a ton of cobweb, but I don't care about it while I have Blogger. But when it comes to Yahoo!Answers, the service has no competitor, AFAIK. I would much prefer something that I can login with my Google account, but Google's equivalent of Yahoo!Answers died some time ago.

For those who don't know, with Yahoo!Answers, people can post questions for others to answer. Just for joining you get 100 points. Asking questions costs you 5 points, while answering one earns you 2. Chances are your answer isn't the only one provided but if it is selected as Best Answer, you get an extra 10 points. Just logging in for the day gets you a measly one point.

Like all things that is widely available to the public, inevitably there are stupid "answers". While some people like to say there is no stupid questions, there certainly are stupid answers in Yahoo!Answers. Like when someone "answers" a question by saying idk, short for "I don't know". If you don't know, just don't "answer", doh! I guess those "answerers" are just out to "earn" their 2 points. Then there were those who don't answers the questions but plays interrogator or psychiatrist, asking the asker why he/she would want to do that...

What was even more irksome was that as you need to have a Level 2 account, i.e. have 250 points, to be able to vote on answers. Only recently did I get to Level 2 - I play nice and don't make up fake or stupid answers just to climb the chart. I sure gave those stupid answers some good whacking!

There is so much knowledge out there and mine seems to be limited to Computer & Internet, occasionally in Words & Wordplay. Occasionally I would go outside of my comfort zone and research a bit on the topic. It's a good way to learn new things.

21 December 2008

Fruits from the Tree

What happens if you throw a party and no one came? That's how I feel with regards to the extended family tree I've been building. I don't know how some people decided to do it, but there are family trees out there on the web with personal info like birth dates and names for the world to see.

After about a month seriously collecting info and photos, I now have over 400 people in the tree. It is time to pick the fruits off the family tree, which in this case means printing out some charts. Not everyone is completely accounted for, as I have people I only know exists/existed and a factoid or two about them but nothing else, not even a name. So I have cousins simply referred to as Twin #1 and Twin #2, who are children of a certain aunt on the father's side, plus one of the twin, don't know which one, died of drowning. Still, the tree is very usable and I would love to post it up some web site so people I know can easily access the info, but that is not possible. Too much information for all the cyber bad guys out there.

The most I could do was to print out certain branches of the tree and either showed them in person or send the chart via conventional mail. So far I printed one for my in-laws - just the Wife's paternal grandfather plus his descendants. It was not so bad assembling nine pages of paper. Actually, I made it a game for some nieces to put together and she even taped the pages for me. The bigger challenge was when I printed for my far, far away sister all her relatives. On my mother's side, one uncle had 13 children and another has 10. On my father's side, the grandfather had two wives, one wife produced seven children while the other gave birth to three. I know, that uncle on the mother side beat my paternal grandpa even with just one wife. Imagine how many he could have sired if he had two wives!

If the relatives were limited to just the immediate uncles, aunts, etc. the chart would not be so bad. However, the chart also included people who were related to me going back a few generations. On my mother's side, in Bà Lan, we are close, in terms of relationship, to a family who is related to us via my grandpa. Not even blood brothers, more like cousins. The chart came out to 54 pages long, 6 pages wide by 9 pages high, and was really unwieldy to put together. Fortunately, Reunion 9 wisely supports printing of page numbers. The relationship lines also helped a lot.

Next I plan to send a simpler chart to an uncle living in Queens, New York. He helped me get started with father's side so it's time to show him some appreciation. I didn't even get to the cousin level on my father side, as I was not close to them, but hopefully this uncle in Queens can add provide more info.

13 December 2008

A Blast From The Past

Years before I took on the QaptainQwerty moniker, I was known in some small circle as Chesse. Chesse came from the English name Jesse, which I at time thought of using as my English name, and the game chess, which I like to play. It is pronounced like Chess-see, but naturally many people spelled it as cheese. Me no mouse!

In my college years, as Chesse I drew a bunch of op-ed cartoons for the school newspaper on whatever topic on my mind at the moment. I never got any feedback if people understood them but as long as the newspaper kept publishing them I kept drawing them every month.

This particular cartoon was about my feeling toward the U.S. education system. At that time I probably just read in some survey how pathetic the typical U.S. student performed against the world in math and science. At the time, the late 80s, multimedia CD-ROMs were all the rage. The 20-MB floppy diskette was also pretty hot, for a while anyway. I never own such a drive and totally forgot to even mention in the Memory Lane entry. The 5.25" floppy diskette was still in limited use even if it was on the way out.

The amazing thing with this cartoon is that I drew it all on the computer, probably a lowly 16-MHz Amiga 3000, using, gasp, the mouse. The Wife got me a stylus and tablet some years ago as a Xmas present but I never got used to it. Yet years earlier I was comfortable enough with the mouse to draw an entire cartoon. It was done in Deluxe Paint, no fancy layers whatsoever like today's Photoshop. Amazing how much one can accomplish given lots of time.

11 December 2008

I Spy A... Ton of Floppies!

You've had the walk down memory lane, how about playing a little HideNSeek game, too?

As both frequent visitors to this site know, I've created ViquaGames HideNSeek games before. Up to now they had been rated very low, if at all, by ViquaGames players. I really don't like to blend objects into the background completely so most of my creation so far are pretty easy to play, not challenging at all. I think the trick to the game genre is to have lots and lots of things in the photo to start with then throw in the hidden objects. The photo for the Memory Lane blog entry makes a perfect backdrop. So far the new puzzle has been received very well. I plan to make more along the same line. The nice thing is because I use the same puzzle as a cover for my Qaptain Qwerty 2009 Qalendar, I couldn't cover any objects with another.

Most likely I'll make more HideNSeek puzzles using my Son's massive toy collection. There will be puzzles titled "How Happy Was Your Meal?", "Wheally Hot Wheels," and "Lights! Camera! Action Figures!" It will be fun!

10 December 2008

Memory Lane

Aaaah, removable media. Is it not the ultimate storage device? Fill up one unit, pop it out and pop a new unit into the drive, then keep collecting more stuff. When I started computing in the early 1980s, 5.25" floppy diskettes, like that black one on the foreground, were still in use. They may have been 360K in size, but with some mutilation can go up to 720K. High density version was available, too, with a whopping size of 1.2 MB! Still the HD 5.25" couldn't fight off the rising star of the time, the 3.5" diskette, with a top size of 1.4 MB. Soon 1.4 MB was not enough and we saw the arrival of the Iomega Bernoulli and SyQuest cartridges. One regret I have about cleaning up my junk collection is a 10-MB Bernoulli cartridge. It was the size of a college notebook! I threw it out when I moved from one house to another years ago. I cannot remember the size of the Bernoulli that was battling with the SyQuest. Knowing it that competing products usually outdo their competitor just slightly, I am sure it was probably somewhere less than 88 MB. I know for a fact Bernoulli came out with a 150-MB 3.5" cartridge at one point in time.

Almost out of nowhere, Iomega upped the ante with the Zip drive, at 100 MB and in the 3.5" form factor. It was wildly successful and rang the death knell for SyQuest. In the picture, laying atop a SyQuest 88 case and in front of the Jaz cartridge is a 135-MB 3.5" SyQuest cartridge. It's a case of being late to the market. Iomega even has the 1-GB Jaz, later upgraded to 2 GB. For my Wall Street PowerBook, I got an Imation SuperDisk with capacity of 120 MB. Remember what I said about edging out the competition just a little? 120 MB, just 20 MB over the popular Zip 100. The SuperDisk drive could also read 3.5" floppy disk, but again Imation was late to the booming removable hard drive scene and joined other companies as losers to Iomega.

The problem with removable hard drive is that you need the drives to use them. You need some other physical device that has to be hooked up to the computer(s) in order to use the cartridges/disc/disk. I used to have to carry an Iomega USB drive back and forth between the office and home. Some time I would remember to bring everything, other times I would forget the power cable for the drive, or the USB cable for the device. Too much hassle!

Nowadays, the de facto removable media is the flash drive. Some are shown in the picture: the blue Fuji 128 MB thumb drive in the upper right corner; the white Kingston 2-GB drive on the left (on top of the Zip 250), and some black x-MB drive that someone gave my wife a bunch of songs on. Yup, the price has come down so much, people treat these things as disposable. I probably paid $50 for the 128-MB thumb drive way back when. These days you can buy a spindle of blank DVDs and get a 512-MB flash drive for free!

Also included in the photos, all atop the 3M box, are a bunch of memory cards. From my older Kodak camera we have the 128-MB SanDisk CompactFlash. Lying in its white plastic case is the 2-GB SD card for my newer Kodak camera. Last but not least, is the tiny 2-GB Kingston microSD card for my son's Nintendo DS.

Money probably cannot buy you happiness, but it sure can get you lots of removable storage.

09 December 2008

Y Obama? I am a boy!

In case you are wondering, "What the hey was that about?", as you looked over the Am A Boy cartoon, here is the answer. Nothing much, really, the sole purpose of the cartoon is to support the palindrome, which is also the punch line in the joke. The phrase "Y Obama? I am a boy!" spells the same from left to right and right to left, with punctuations and spaces removed, of course. In this age of text-messaging and instant messaging, we all know that y can be interpreted as why, yes? That's all, just to whip out a palindrome, no political statement, really. Palindromes are like that, they are usually contrived and need the situation built around them.

I did get a little inspiration from an article in The Onion (that good satirical weekly magazine!) some time ago about Bill Clinton looking forward to being First Husband. That was when Hilary Clinton was competing with Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. The article featured a doctored picture of Bill Clinton eying himself in the mirror, trying to decide if the dress would look good on him. With all the news about how Mr. Bill sometimes like to steal the spotlight from his now more famous wife, it can be easy to see that he may some day even dresses up as her to steal power from her. Of course, in the end, Obama got the nomination and went on to win the Presidency. Alas, my little palindrome and its companion cartoon would never the light of day. Luckily, Hilary is in the news again, this time as a Secretary of State. So, enjoy the cartoon/palindrome while it is still relevant. I know, the likeness is not very strong, but it has to do for now.

04 December 2008

Genealogy = Hard Work

There are different kinds of genealogy works. One kind involves tracing your root all the way back to the beginning, like what our friend The Lone Gunman did with 23andme etc. You would learn that your ancestors came from certain region of the world, maybe that you are remotely related to some famous/infamous historical figure. I am not into that kind of genealogy work at all. What I am after is to be prepared to answer some kid's question, "How am I related to Person X?"

You would think in this Information Age, researching about your relatives is a piece of cake. But that is not the case when most of your relatives are in Viet Nam. While I am ambitious in that I want to establish a placeholder for every person I know about, all I need for those holders are birth year, death year (if applicable), a name, a Chinese or Vietnamese name, or both, and a face. I take photos often so my iPhoto library is a good place to start. I am also lucky that my mother brought from Viet Nam a few really old photos. I am equipped with the speedy and very portable Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M, so photo positives faze me not. One cousin has a large photo collection with KodakGallery as well as in Facebook, so her side of the family is well-covered. This time around I'm also reaching out to cousins, distant and close, via email, although so far my success rate is zero.

Still, it is hard work to go through all the info I have at my disposal. Unlike my mother with her neatly organized photo albums, most of my photos are in those small albums that the photo shop gave us. At least back when we used to develop films. Nowadays, they are in iPhoto amd most are named like 100_2497.JPG or DCP_2997.JPG, totally useless for iPhoto's Search function. I've been going through the physical photos and scan people in whenever I find someone I need to add to the extended tree. Of course iPhoto's digital takes preferences, but there are some people who were never captured on digital "film", so the ScanSnap has been busy. As I add or go through iPhoto, I also rename the files or add names to the Description field. I also borrowed a few photos from my mother's collection. I even scanned the back of some photos as they contain invaluable info about the people in the photos. I plan to ask my mother lots of questions, about the people in the photos and the relationship. It is a lot of hard work but I also enjoy the detective work very much.

30 November 2008

Reunion With Reunion

When I came back to NYC from my recent trip to Toronto to attend an uncle's funeral, one of the first thing I did was to re-visit Reunion, the Mac genealogy software. During the trip I spent some time with relatives who I didn't keep in touch regularly and learned all about the different names and relationship then wanted to have a way to track them

I used MacFamilyTree (MFT) to maintain an extensive family tree but got sidetracked and haven't updated the tree in a while. Since then Reunion came out with a new version, #9, while MacFamilyTree evolved into #5 under a new company. MacFamilyTree 5's new interface is just too different for my taste. Before I went the MFT way, I did use Reunion and was totally frustrated by its lack of support for Unicode. Being ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, many of my relatives, alive and dead, have either a Vietnamese name, a Chinese name, or both. Equally ridiculous was the fact that Reunion 8 couldn't sort siblings by their year of birth, but instead sort by some internal ID assigned by the program as people are added. Genealogy work is intensive and one does not always have all the info. Once in a blue moon you would have all the names of all the people in a family and their birth order in the family. If I at least know that someone has a sibling then I would create the sibling with some placeholder year of birth. Most of the time the siblings are entered in random order, so using the internal ID to sort the siblings rarely works. MFT was smart enough to use the birth date to sort siblings and also supports Unicode so I went with it. One thorny issue with both MFT and Reunion was printing. Neither was able to properly handle page breaks and people's faces would often than not be split on two pages. As I used MFT more often, I was also annoyed by its printing of people's names on their faces in a certain tree view. Weird how these things not excluded in the final product. So I was OK with MFT but I always wished there would be something else.

When Reunion 9 first came out, I downloaded the demo but never gave it try. Recently, I put it through its pace and really liked it. Unicode is now included so all the Chinese and Vietnamese names can be entered as aliases. Both MFT and Reunion support aliases, but only with Reunion can I customize a tree view to show the aliases. With MFT, I had to include the aliases as part of the last names for them to be included in the tree view, quite a contrite workaround. Sibling sorting in Reunion 9 is now possible, although it's a manual process - not a show-breaker. The nicest thing with Reunion 9 is the Move Boxes Off Page Break option. What intelligence! I have it on by default and no boxes would ever be split across pages. While my printed trees are not on one sheet of plotter paper but instead spread across multiple 8.5" x 11" pages, it is easy to tape them together and nobody's face is ever cut in half. Within a day of testing, I upgraded my Reunion 8 to version 9. I was worried that I didn't have the serial number for Reunion 8 but it turned out it was not needed. The upgrade version simply looked for the installed app for 8 or the original CD, which I had.

Because of privacy issue, I cannot post the real tree here but perhaps I'll make one for the Solo and Skywalker families. Time to make good use of the Star Wars The New Essential Guide To Characters, I suppose.

24 November 2008

Học Một Sàng Khôn?

There is a saying in Vietnamese that goes "Đi một ngày đàng, học một sàng khôn". The almost literal translation is "Spend a day on the road and you learn an amount of smart knowledge," or a better translation would be "By traveling one learns about the world". I surely learned a thing or two on my recent weekend getaway to Toronto to attend an uncle's funeral.

I have attended a few funerals, for people my in-laws know, for people I know, and of course my own late father's. At all those funerals, people would donate money to help cover the cost of the funeral. Nothing, yet, can bring a dead person back to life, and a funeral costs money, lots of money, so it is practical to donate money to help with the funeral. I am not rich and most people I know are not rich either so I have yet to attend any funerals where money was not accepted. On this recent trip, I learned that some people would not take the money, even if they can very well use it, purely because doing so would bring debt to the dead person. Supposedly his soul would then be burdened by this debt and won't go where souls are supposed to go.

Interestingly, many Vietnamese believe that when people die they will reincarnate into some other lives. Supposedly, it would be better to be reborn into wealthy family. Conversely, it would be bad to be reborn as an animal, as animals are either made to perform manual labors or are eaten for their meat. I am no Buddhist scholar, but I know that it is not true that it is good to have a better life in your second life. The goal is to have no life at all! Really. Living inside a body of flesh and blood is simply awful, regardless whether you are the pampered prince of a wealthy family or you are the hard-working farmer who wakes up at 3 A.M. with the water buffalo. The goal is to leave your flesh and become free, kinda like Obi-Wan Kenobi melding with the Force.

Another thing I learned was that if a person died before the parents, it is considered a sin, something disrespectful to the parents. In Vietnamese funeral, the grieving parties wear white bands around the head. In the case of a disrespectful child, at the wake, the dead child, lying in the coffin, would have to have a white band placed near his head, supposedly to symbolize the dead person wearing for his parents. Superstition defies logic, as wouldn't some elderly people object to that as a signal to hasten their demise, trù ẻo or bad wishes? Whatever, tradition also dictates that the parents should whip the coffins three times to punish the child for "going" ahead of them.

The Vietnamese word khôn in the title means smart or intelligent. I would not say the two things I learned above make me smarter or more intelligent. I'm a computer geek and am aware that knowledge is power, although their usefulness can be doubtful. In case I come across similar scenarios, I can act accordingly and avoid being treated like an ignoramus. As an atheist who believes "chết là hết", or "Death is the end of all", none of this means much to me.

16 November 2008

Walter Walter Everywhere!

Here's my latest ViquaGames HideNSeek game. I got a kick out of overlaying the word Walter, in various shapes and colors, onto a photo of the cascade at St. Anne Canyon in Quebec, from a vacation a few years ago. In case you don't know, Walter Wick is the photographer who made all those beautiful photos in the I Spy book series. Jean Marzolo supplied the riddles that accompanied the puzzles. At some point the pair went their separate ways and Wick continued with a new series called Can You See What I See?

I resisted the temptation of making the objects totally blend into the background. I find it very annoying when I play games people make that way. I consider it cheating. It is one thing to make the objects hard to find, but it is something else when the object is totally invisible because its color totally matches that of the background.


13 November 2008

Veteran's Day 2008

Every year I hear in the news how few people turn out for Veteran's Day Parade. I was going to just call a Vietnam vet friend but then happened to see on 1010WINS that the parade would run until 3 PM. I had to wait for my son to do his homework and have lunch so we got there around 2 PM. Sure enough, unlike the Thanksgiving Parade where people pack the parade route, you can see that there were not that many people. Maybe there was a bigger audience early in the day. How about making a note to yourself to be at your local parade next year?

11 November 2008

ViquaGames' HideNSeek Games

My Son loves the I Spy game genre. He has all the I Spy hardcover books as well as the Can You See What I See? series. With me being a computer geek, he naturally also gets to play the I Spy software. While Scholastic is slow in churning out the computer games, many other companies fill the void. Son has games from the Travelogue 360 series, Little Shop, Hidden Object Game Show, and a few others.

One of the old Scholastic title has a puzzle-maker built in but it runs in Mac Classic mode and can only be used off the computer and not shared on the web. Come on now, we have Web 2.0 for a while now, you would think there's a website out where you can upload your own background then sprinkle it with your own objects. Unfortunately, it seems ViquaGames.com's HideNSeek Creator is the closest thing. You can load your own background alright, but the objects are canned. I must admit it is no easy task to cut the objects out of their original backgrounds. I am pretty sure plug-ins like AKVIS Chameleon can be of great help. It would be great to be able to use one's own pictures for the object. Perhaps ViquaGames can offer the service, for a fee, to do the hard work of cutting the objects out the user-submitted photos. I am sure some pet owners would love to see their own pets blended into the background, instead of some canned chihuahua. I ran the idea by ViquaGames, maybe some day they'll implement it.

Son and I put together this second HideNSeek I created under the username qqwerty. Enjoy!

08 November 2008

OverDrive Video Optimizer Sucks

Some time ago I saw a flyer at a branch of the New York Public Library touting an online library where one can borrow movies and more. I knew not to expect to find the latest Hollywood blockbusters available, but I do watch really old, classic movies from time to time. I never found the time to actually try to borrow any movies, until recently when my son became interested in the classic Short Circuit. It's been 22 years since the movie came out, it should be old enough to be in any library's online collection. It is indeed, but the only hurdle is that the required software runs on Windoze only. Fine, that's what I got Parallel for. I have enough of Windoze at work and don't want any at home, but the sad truth is that there are software out there that only runs on Windoze.

First I had to download the OverDrive Media Console software. Because I don't use Windoze much on the Mac via Parallel, I also had to download Windows Media Player. Through the Brooklyn Public Library's eMedia site, I downloaded some .ODM file that is supposed to lead me to the movie Short Circuit. Although the web site said that it's over 500 MB, it downloaded very quickly. Turned out it's kinda like those BitTorrent file.

Since I installed Windows Media Player after OverDrive, I automatically thought WMP would be used for opening the ODM file. To make matter worse, WMP did not flat out refuse to load the file but instead offer to try it anyway. Of course, it failed. Next, I managed to open the ODM file with OverDrive but then it complained about some WMP security being outdated. The error message did say that I would have to do something under the Tools menu of OverDrive, but because the outdated security was with WMP, I went to WMP and naturally couldn't find any options to update the security setting. To make things worse, the default fancy skin for WMP didn't readily show a Tools menu, you would have to switch to Classic skin first. It would be so nice to have the Check For Updates menu option like all Mac apps. Finally, I got OverDrive to update WMP's security, and the only hurdle was to download the large file for viewing. Yup, when I loaded the ODM file and clicked Play, it didn't automatically go ahead and download the file then play, but instead had to present an error window. Why can't the software just do whatever necessary to get the movie to be played?

What a painful experience that was. Compared that to the typical purchasin experience with the iTunes Music Store and I can see why the iTMS is popular. I have no idea how many use the eMedia service, but if it can be streamlined a lot more more people will make use of the resource.

01 November 2008

Ass-Backward Securities

I could not have drawn the Halloween 2008 cartoon without the help of This American Life. In episodes 355 (The Giant Pool of Money) and 365 (Another Frightening Show About the Economy), Ira Glass explained as simply as possible all the financial terms like asset-backed securities and default credit swaps. Working in a the computer support department of a financial firm, I come across these terms all the time. To me they are just a bunch of abstract terms. I think of them in terms of what resources on the network they use, not how they affect the lives of people. I know the asset-backed securities group was the first to migrate off those ailing qtrees, onto a share created at the volume, with 3 qtrees under the share. Default credit swaps still hasn't made their move, although I might have already Robocopied their data for them. Commercial paper? Those people are outside the Investment Bank umbrella and have their own, way better organized shared drives. Just a J: drive and at most an M: or K: drive, not the alphabet soup that the IB people drag around from legacy domain to strategic.

I still don't fully understand all the terms that Ira Glass mentioned, but I have a less vague idea of what they are. Give This American Life a try if you have never listened to it. For me it is hard to catch it on the radio so I subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

04 October 2008

Be Prepared - by The Lone Gunman

Remember The Lone Gunman? Today I have him as a guest blogger, writing on a topic close to his heart. I only made some minor changes here and there, nothing to diverge from LG's POV. Enjoy!

寧為太平犬,不做亂世人 - "It is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period."

If you have been watching the news lately, you might have noticed the historical changes going on in the banking sector. We live in a very chaotic period and the odds you will be laid off or have your income reduced in some way is very high. If you are laid off how long will it take you to get a new job in this business climate? Probably longer than most times I believe. So it is time to take a good hard look at your life and ask yourself, "What would I do if I get fired?" Make those cuts now while you still have a job if you can and set aside some emergency supplies. You should have supplies on hand anyway in case of a natural disaster. How long was the power out in Houston after Hurricane Ike? Most people had no damage to their homes, but were without power for days, some weeks. How well would you live in times like that?

Water - I believe the recommended amount is at least one gallon per person per day. It is just a good idea to have some water on hand at all times in case of disaster.

Food - Stock up on what you already eat. If you are like me, it is easy to run to the store a few times a week to pick up this or that and supplement meals with take-out. What happens if you cannot go to the store for a week or so? Would you be able to feed your family? I have a few kids so I feel a greater responsibility to be prepared, instead of 2 boxes of spaghetti, I buy 10. Instead of 5 cans of beans, I will buy 20. This type of thing lasts a long time, most canned goods last 2-3 years easy, so it won't go to waste and will be eaten eventually if disaster doesn't strike. Make sure you check the expiration dates on products when you purchase them. I have found cans with a year difference on the same shelf.

Baby items - If you have an infant then you should stock up on formula, diapers wipes, etc. The whole Idea is to be as self-sufficient as possible if you are without an income or disaster strikes. One hundred years ago this type of thinking/preparedness was second nature. People had no one to go to for help when disaster struck.

Here are a few links to get you started, take and leave what you need for your personal situation.


03 October 2008

Ticket Agent?

Re-org, it is part of the corporate life. My server group just almost done with one. Much to my relief, I am being moved to another group inside the umbrella group. I will be up front tackling problem tickets. Supposedly I will regain my Netware admin rights, which I gave up when I moved into the current, Windows-only group. I am not worried that the Novell resources are being moved to ActiveDirectory, starting with the homes. For all the scripts I wrote for AD, I still prefer to work with Novell. I like the fact that a home folder is created automatically for Netware users as the accounts are created, whereas with Windows, especially when shares are involved, the home folders must be created separately after the fact.

Hopefully soon I will no longer be involved with the current migration project. I've been dealing almost exclusively with the project years ago since I was in the LAN Account Admin group. Since coming over to the server group, things only got worse. Sure I had some exposure to Robocopy scripting, but all the paperwork involved in requesting storage space, backup, change control, is just too much for my technical mind. The forms are probably among the most user-hostile in the world. You have to have a lot of prior knowledge to fill them out, just one illogical field in the hundreds and you are stuck.

It will be months before I will be free from this tedious project as I slowly transfer knowledge to other people in the group. It helps to have hope, to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel.

27 September 2008

Gruesome Gee SOM's Last Hurrah

One week... three days... two and a half days... this is it! The day finally arrived for my ex-colleagues in LAN Account Admin department in the northeast, which I like to refer to as Gruesome Gee SOM. There was a farewell drink/dinner type of gathering on the last day, September 26. I was afraid I would not be able to make it, as I usually have some migration work to do on Fridays. The actual work happens at 10:45 PM but much preparation must be done before the kickoff time. Luckily, because of the turmoil in the financial market and the lingering effect of Hurricane Ike, all change controls are on hold for a while. I still have plenty of other work to do, but at least I have time to meet the guys and gals of Gee SOM for the last time.

Here are the photos I took at the event. Superman left early so I couldn't snap him. There were some latecomers who I did not know well so they are left out as well. Enjoy!


25 September 2008

Not As Geeky As I Thought

59% Geek

Created by OnePlusYou - Online Dating Site

I consider myself pretty geeky but was disappointed that I am not THAT geeky. Spend lots of time on the computer, read sci-fi books, visit the library every week... Supposedly that is not enough, according to the poll at http://www.oneplusyou.com/bb/geek . The poll is made by OnePlusYou, a dating service, so look around if you are in the market.

24 September 2008

Queens For A Day, Part 2

Before my memory goes bad, here is the second set of photos from my recent visit to northern Queens that I decided to share with the blogosphere.

Oh, Scylla!
Back when I lived in LIC, I did not have the ambitious plan of visiting as many different playgrounds as I could. I probably took my niece and nephew to Dutch Kills Playground every time. I did not know about this Charybdis Playground, in the northern part of Astoria Park. Astoria being a mostly Greek town, it is no surprise that a playground is named after a whirlpool in Greek mythology. If you think the heading Oh, Scylla! makes me a Prince fan (Oh Sheila), you are wrong. I just couldn't resist the pun. Instead, I can easily associate Charybdis with the Police song Wrapped Around Your Finger, as in You consider me the young apprentice/Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis

Capture Your Citadel
Putting new words to use is the best way to remember them. My son was reading Knight's Kingdom: The Grand Tournament, a Scholastic Reader Level 4 book, and mispronounced citadel as ker-dat-tle. He unconsciously switched the d and the t and made an incorrect stab at the pronunciation. I corrected him then to reinforce the new knowledge showed him the music video Change Myself by Todd Rundgren. Not only a rock musician, Rundgren was also a pioneer in computer 3D animation, in particular LightWave 3D, which at the time available only for the Amiga computer. In one scene of the music video, as a chess rook falls down Rundgren crooned capture your citadel. Son remembered the new word when we visited Charybdis Playground and announced that he captured the citadel as he got to the top of the slide. That's my boy!

World War 1 Memorial
Just south of the Charybdis Playground is a memorial for those from the area who served the country in World War I. Having never served any countries in the armed forces during wartime, I have high regards for those who did.

Triboro Bridge
One summer while living in Brooklyn, I worked as an intern for Con Edison, out of their Indian Point nuclear power plant in Upstate New York. On the way back, I was supposed to enter the FDR Drive from the Harlem River Driver. I was new at driving and stayed on the right lane even though the right lane was exit only for getting on the Triboro Bridge from the Harlem River Drive. It was probably my first visit to the Astoria before I moved to the area. I think I just went along 31st Street, with the N train's elevated track above it, like in the Rite Aid photo, all the way to the Queensborough Bridge to re-enter Manhattan. That was not as bad as the time I went onto the Washington Bridge from the Major Deegan Expressway, into New Jersey. Again, all because I was afraid to make lane changes and stayed in the right lane too long. I never like driving, to me it's just a necessary evil. All the rude New York drivers don't help the feeling either.

23 September 2008

Queens For A Day, Part 1

In an ideal world, I would re-visit my old neighborhood in Woodhaven, Queens, where I moved to after a few years living in the cramped apartment in Elmhurst. It was our first time living in a family house, I liked it so much I went to some local T-shirt store and bought a shirt that read "I Love Woodhaven". Well, the world is not perfect and I instead found myself re-visiting Long Island City, Queens and its neighbor Astoria. After Woodhaven, we spent a year in crime-ridden Bushwick, Brooklyn, then stayed in L.I.C. for about ten years. Here are some photos from my excursion to the northern part of Queens this past Sunday. I used BannerZest to create the slideshow, using the Water Apparition Narrow theme. While it looks kinda cool, it allows no text to accompany the photos, so notes are right below the slideshow.

Long Island City Home
The house with the green awning is where we lived for almost ten years. By then it was just my parents, my older brother, and me. Wow, for a second there, I couldn't remember where my brother's room was. It was in this house that I got laid off from my first job out of college. Life was simpler then, I just took it easy and did nothing for half a year. Got up most morning at 9 and jogged to Astoria Park to run 6 miles around the track. It was supposed to be my training for the NYC Marathon. Of course it was far below the recommended amount. In 1997 I got married and moved out, then in 1999 my parents and brother moved in with me in Brooklyn, when Wife and I bought our house. I had to throw out lots of stuff for the final move and still regret that I included a box of Oriental Heroes (龍虎門) graphic novel.

Almost Bought
At one time we tried to buy a house in the area. It has an odd shape, very short but wide. The house looked pretty much the same as I remember it almost fifteen years ago. After we went to the bank to try borrow money, we were not that sure we wanted to buy it. Luckily the bank turned us down. Where were those subprime loans when you needed one, eh?

Genovese Supported ARROW
Now a Rite Aid, this store near the junction of Broadway and 31st Street used to be a Genovese Drug Store. It was while living in LIC that I got involved with the recycling group called ARROW. Back then the City did not have curbside recycling. ARROW setup a collection site on the sidewalk right outside Genovese for people to drop off metal cans, plastic bottles, may be even newspapers. Someone thought of flattening the metal cans for better storage and welded a square metal plate to an iron pipe. The device was effective at flattening the cans, but the people wielding it would just smash the thing into a pile of cans. Luckily no one was hurt by the cans as that inevitably flew out of the pile. I came up with the idea having some people line up the cans for me to smash. Assembly line, that's all. It was a lot safer that way. Genovese was supportive of the operation and allowed us to store our tools and such in their store.

Dutch Kills Playground
At one time, a cousin lived a few blocks away from us. She had a son and a daughter, little kids, 8 or 9 years old. Back then my job was not so hectic, I had time to take the kids to the park and Hall of Science. No, it was not only during the time that I was unemployed that I hang out with my niece and nephew. I was a good uncle before I became the good father.

16 September 2008

Work-From-Home Tech Tips

The thing with magazines for the general public is that they can sometimes miss the boat altogether. This afternoon I read the PC Magazine article The Telecommuter's Tech Toolbox and found myself constantly shaking my head thinking, "Where are these corporations they are talking about?" Definitely not where I work. The software list the article refers to are all so not allowed in my company. Google Docs? Twitter? Meebo? Sure sounds like the article was written for tiny companies that rely on the public Internet. Where I work, "fun" stuff like Twitter and Meebo are all blocked. You can only use whatever the corporate filter allows. No sending sensitive info to Internet addresses, including oneself.

I love tech tips and was obviously disappointed by the PC Mag article. Here's some real world tech tips I use every week, in a corporate environment:

  • DSL is not so great for certain disk-intensive tasks. I try to use MS Terminal Services (mstsc) or even Citrix whenever possible. Re-permissioning a folder with many files, loading a list of all objects in an ActiveDirectory, pulling info for a long list of usernames, all ideal candidates for putting the servers within the corporate network to work. I will get FIOS but even then will still rely on the muscles of the servers inside the network.
  • If I have a file that I edit frequently, then it stays on my C: drive to save the unnecessary trips writing to that far, far away server. If it needs to be elsewhere too then I would setup a schedule to copy it there every so often.
  • DOS is not dead and there are many DOS commands/utilities that can make your telecommute better.
    • map a drive with NET USE
    • list the folder's content with DIR
    • RMTSHARE tells you lots about a share, something most people rely on Hyena or DameWare for
    • FileACL gives you inside info about a folder/file's permission, no need to visit item and select File/Properties
    • to see a text file's content, use TYPE filename | MORE
  • Jump on instant messaging as soon as you can. I hate phone calls and love I.M.
  • Find out how to check your voicemail while outside the office. It should be a toll-free number or at most a local call. It is part of being reachable while working in your PJ.
  • Try not to write down phone messages but instead keep in the computer, perhaps as an entry in your calendar. If you write it down on a piece of paper at work then work at home the next day, how will you read that piece of paper.
  • Phone-forwarding is great. Where I am now the building is sorta old so phone forwarding is done over the phone, you just have to press the right sequence of buttons. Before, in a different building, we had IP phones and forwarding the phone was done in a browser window. I used to set the forwarding period so that after a certain hour no one would "accidentally" find me.
  • Unless you have a really very generous cell phone plan, don't forward your desk phone to your cell phone. Don't use your cell phone to attend conference calls just because it has a headset, something perhaps your home phone doesn't have. The minutes add up fast and you may end up with a big bill. The company may not reimburse you or have some convoluted reimbursement process.
  • With long-distance calls, ask the people in the office to call you if possible.
  • With the One PC Per Grunt policy, I can no longer control another machine from a machine at home, but if you can, make use of it. Only the screens are sent back and forth, so you can save a lot of time by making use of some machine already inside the network. Same idea like MS Terminal Services and Citrix.
I must give credits to the article for mentioning that it's good to go outside for a walk once or twice. Some days I got so into the tasks at hand and ended up spending the whole day inside... and was rewarded with a nasty headache for the evening. Now I try to go to the library, to the bank, pick up my son from school, or even to get coffee.

Happy Teleworking!

09 September 2008

Plugging Plurk

Thanks to my ex-colleague TT, I've discovered Plurk, an alternative to Twitter. It is not as well-known as the big Twit but that's fine. Microblogging tools like Plurk is useful for writing something when you don't want to write a lot. You may have noticed the Plurk gadget I added to the blog's sidebar. It was not as easy to setup as Twitter's, but a visit to the Share Your Plurk Page field of one's Plurk home page to get the UID should take care of things.

One fun thing with Plurk is the Karma Points. It's just a way to track how much time and effort you put into using it. Load a picture for your profile page, rant and rave about whatever in your mind, make friends, etc. and your Karma Points go up. Stay away from Plurk and it will go down. Interesting. I cannot help thinking about someone's Karma running over my Dogma...

I look forward to Plurk having its own app for Facebook and the iPhone/iTouch. There's some hack to get Plurk working with Facebook and on September 9 developer Ryan Lim just submitted a Plurk app to the Apple App Store. Ta-ta, Twitter!

05 September 2008


Thanks to Google AdSense's intelligence, I got to re-discover Smilebox, a fun way to share photos and videos on the web. I downloaded the Mac software and tried to register but it turned out I already did. Good thing I used a familiar password. I probably opened the account but back then, whenever that was, there was no Mac version of the software. The Mac version just came out this past June.

The free version insert ads into the final creation, but the ads are not intrusive or annoying so I can live with it. I only tried the so-called Blogger embedded mode. While it does not play directly within the blog page, it is not so bad.

Click to play Lancaster Vacation 2008
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04 September 2008


One interesting thing I learned on vacation was the effect camera flash has on shooting arcade. By shooting arcade I mean those amusement park attractions where you shoot at targets to make things move. Piano player hits a few notes, skulls snap backward, bottles do somersault, and so on. I had my share of losing a dollar or so and could not make anything move. Later on, my big group descended upon the shooting gallery so I thought I should take a few pictures of the group members with their rifles. As the flash briefly brightened the gallery, many of the nearby objects went nut! I never knew what normally makes the objects move as there was no actual bullets flying out of the rifle muzzle, but a simple digital camera flash sure did the job.

It was closing time and there was no amusement park attendants nearby to tell me to quit it so I flashed the scene a few more times, much to the amusement of the group. Too bad there was no prize involved otherwise I could have won one of those large stuffed animals.

02 September 2008

Vacation Vexation

I am back from a short getaway in Lancaster, PA. It was almost perfect as I managed to avoid being caught in the midst of a shopping spree, three times! How ironic, being in the land of the Amish, who shun technologies and live simple farming lives, and what do most people in my party of twelve did? Of course, they have to shop, shop, and shop some more. Just because some items were on sale at $5 apiece they have to be bought even if the buyers already have x number of such items at home. Sure, just throw something away later to make room for this new batch.

My son did have a good time swimming in the small hotel pool, playing on many rides at Dutch Wonderland, and riding on a real steam engine at Strasburg Railroad. We ate at the famous Miller's Smorgasbord one evening and I had some computer time thanks to the lodge's free Wi-Fi, so everything so far were pluses.

We planned to stop by Weaver's Orchard on the way down but my brother-in-law, who I shall refer to as BIL, in the lead of the two-car caravan, missed the exit because he took a call just then and there. On the last day of the short trip, I avoided the third shopping excursion by going to Strasburg Railroad with my family and a nephew. We were supposed to meet at the orchard and I even beat the other car getting there, relying solely on my sense of direction and a local map, no GPS. Too bad the orchard was closed for the holiday. They sure live a slow life at that orchard, as they even close on Sundays, which should be a day the city slickers would visit to do the fun picking. Heading back to the PA Turnpike, I realized I had to wrestle with the steering wheel to make the car turn. Pulled over and popped the hood, to my auto-mechanic-challenged eyes nothing seemed to be wrong. To BIL's trained eyes, the belt was off its track, some A/C unit was loose thus giving slack for the belt to slip off. Something similar happened before when I was in the city and I was able to strenuously drive the car back to my local service shop, which was probably OK because it was just a few miles. Supposedly with no belt the fan does not turn and the car can become overheated and the engine may die and needs to be replaced. Definitely not what I want to do as I already own this car almost ten years.

We managed to get my bucket of rust to a local repair shop. I drove BIL's car pushing my own, steered by BIL. We happened to be on a hill top so there were just a few rises here and there but mostly it was a downhill roll. I had never done this business of pushing and was scared stiff. What if I push the car into a ditch or worse into oncoming traffic? My junk car does not worth much but there is a human life at stake here. Unlike in the movie, it was all eerily quiet except for the hum of the engine and ambient sounds off Route 10 South. If anything happened it would happened quietly except for the crash sounds, no dramatic music to be expected. I was going so slow BIL had to tell me to go faster, even up to speed limit. I also had to avoid bumping or risk his airbag popping out. Thank goodness for patient PA residents as a few cars at times were behind me but nobody honked or gave me the finger.

After what seemed like an eternity, we actually made it to the Exxon repair shop. As expected, the one person manning the shop and gas station could not do the repair. It was Labor Day Monday after all. I considered myself lucky to have a place to drop off the car. The lone shop attendant took my contact info and got it parked, awaiting the mechanic the next day. The twelve of us squeezed into BIL's minivan, some unneeded stuff left in my Voyager, and back to NYC we went. Per earlier arrangement, we met a nephew's minivan later on on the NJ Turnpike and the rest of the trip was less cramped.

That's it for this old Plymouth Voyager of mine. I will get it fixed just enough to make the 3-hour trip back and no more long distance trip for it. I'll seriously look for another used car, ideally one that is very gas efficient. I have no garage so my car is always parked on the street, exposed to all kinds of threats, including idiotic kids, sometimes adults, who play football on the street. No need to get a new thing just to get it made old in no time. Such is life in the big city.

28 August 2008

Zest We Can!

As I walked down the memory lane while writing about my first two homes in the U.S., I needed a way to show photos in a slide show. I actually first thought of Google Gadgets, but searching with keywords like slideshow and Picasa actually did not provide anything that satisfy my need. Luckily, a new feature in Picasa is the ability to embed a slide show into a blog, which is exactly what I did with the blog entry about my second home. Still, I wanted something a little fancier, and re-visited BannerZest.

You may recall I once gave Flash the full version a try and found it too hard to learn. BannerZest allows me to create Flash slide shows, albeit limited by whatever the developer thinks useful, but it is still very good. The only problem is that since I first used BannerZest there was an upgrade of Flash Player, which naturally BannerZest relies on. Even after I updated Flash Player, I still got an error message saying my version 8.x of Flash Player is too old. The BannerZest help page suggested looking up the Flash Player version in Safari, under Help / Installed Plug-Ins, then move the old version of the plug-in into a Disabled folder. Did that, but still got the error. Just by chance, I re-visited the Installed Plug-Ins page again and noticed that I had two entries for Shockwave / Flash Player, with different file names. I then moved the name corresponding to the 8.x version and sure enough BannerZest no longer whines about older Flash version. Look for some cool slide show coming up in the next few days as we wax nostalgia some more.

27 August 2008

Second Home USA

Enjoy the following slideshow of photos from my second home in the U.S. Click the speech balloon gadget in the lower left to show or hide the text. Walk through the slideshow manually is recommended as I find the speed is too fast to read the text.

14 August 2008

First Home in the U.S.

Not content to just put up a bunch of photos of my old home in the Bronx that I scanned in with the relatively new Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M, I've mapped them out below.


I suggest zooming in all the way to see the photos at their most approximate locations. To avoid covering the street names, I sometimes put the photos a bit off their exact spots.

Each photo has a nugget of recollection of my early life in the U.S., but you will need to see the photos in their full size to be able to read the text. Enjoy!

13 August 2008

V.S. 0, Consumerism 2

I once heard someone said "If you cannot do, teach." Not that I agree wholeheartedly with the saying, but that is one reason I wrote about Lone Gunman's road to Voluntary Simplicity. I am not a crazy shopper rushing to every sale advertised on the TV, I am just not as far along the path to V.S. as LG. I recently gave the Yahoo! Freecycle group another try but all three of my offers did not yield positive results. One guy asked for LPs so I offered him a bunch that I picked up two blocks from my house sometimes ago. I never own a record player but thought someone someday would want them, and that actually happened. Only thing was the guy said he already had those same LPs I mentioned. In two other cases, some women asked for baby stuff - room monitors and in-door fence. I had used both and wrote to them, but no answer!

Well, not only I did not manage to give away anything, I recently acquired two more pieces of computer peripherals. One is the Time Capsule from Apple. It is really just a network hard drive. At 1 terabyte (TB), it makes an excellent reservoir for backing up data. A recent horror story convinced me to plunk down some hard-earned OT money to get the backup device. A colleague of my wife's had a baby a few years ago and of course took tons of photos, digital photos. Who nowadays take 35mm photos? Of course she puts them in the computer and perhaps sent them around via email or even post them on some web sites. Unfortunately they were never backed up onto discs and one day the hard drive died. Supposedly she took the drive to some local computer guy and the guy made it worse by deleting some of whatever that could be seen. I do not know the details, but by the time she wanted me to try, there was a burn mark on the hard drive case and the thing could not be recognized by my computer. She mentioned something about having to open up the case and replace the circuit board with another board. Whoa, that's way over what I am capable of, as my computer hardware "expertise" only involves unscrewing things and screwing them back. Me don't do no welding, ma'am.

When coupled with Time Machine backup software, the Time Capsule is supposed to make backing up as painless as it can be. Alas, Time Machine only runs on Leopard, which my laptop is not, so for now, painless backup can only be done on my Wife's MacBook, which I don't use that much. Doesn't the Tenth Commandment say something like "Thou shall not covet thy Wife's MacBook?" Or is it "thy neighbor's wife"? My plan is to some day setup some rsync script to periodically copy stuff from my PowerBook to Wife's MacBook. I work a lot with Robocopy at work so it should not be hard to translate the knowledge to rsync.

The other recent acquisition is the Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M. I've been using a Umax Astra 1220U flatbed scanner, bought for $40 at some show at the Jacob Javits Center years ago. The lid's hinges were broken then Crazy Glued back on, the scanner is slow and occasionally is not detected by the Mac, and I have to use some open source software to make it work with OS X. Scanning involves placing photos onto the bed, close the cover, run Photoshop Element, preview, scan, adjust the selection, then crop some parts off, give it a name, etc. It is a lengthy process and does not help with my dream of converting all my photo positives into digital format. Of course, the scanner is also bulky and does not travel well. Enters the ScanSnap S300M, portable, fast, can take stacks of photos through its feeder tray, and works natively with OS X via the supplied ScanSnap Manager software. It takes up two USB ports, one for power and another for data transfer, but that's the price of portability. It would be nice if Bluetooth speed is on par with USB so that portability can be had with just one USB port occupied. As the picture below shows, with two cables the scanner does appear messy.

I already scanned in a bunch of photos from my days with the Vietnamese American Youth Organization, some others of my first home in the U.S., and so far just one of many photos related to the Astoria Residents Reclaiming Our World. While I am looking for old photos to scan, I plan to also transfer them from individual "temporary" albums into real larger albums to better organize them. Therefore, while it is not good for the Earth to have one more gadget produced, the portable ScanSnap will help me organize my worldly possession better. Chances are as I organize I will throw out, give away, or recycle some stuff, so this is not all that bad.

08 August 2008

Survival of the Fittest?

So I am addicted to Wordscraper Blitz. It is the perfect answer to the problem of not having an opponent. Any time of the day, there's always someone playing. So far I have limited my activities in the Restobar room, just because its name does not sound as intimidating as Blitz Masters or Bingo Boomers. I am not that good at it, even though in a group of 20 or more, I am usually in the top ten or even top five. Three times I even won the coveted #1 spot. But enough with Wordscraper Blitz. I've promised myself that if I behave and keep up with my blog, do my ATPM review, vacuum the second floor, eat my veggies, etc. then I can have a few rounds of Blitz. So here goes what's happening with the Lone Gunman and his quest for V.S., which is no B.S. ...

So far this year, LG has given away:
  • 9-foot solid wood antique "barn door" table to Humane Society
  • 2 office chairs
  • flat-screen monitor
  • big wood-framed Ralph Lauren Esq mirror

He is also down to
  • 4 business shirts
  • 3 pair of pants
  • 3 jeans
  • 4 T-shirts
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 4 boxers
  • some winter clothes
LG is also very much into the idea of Peak Oil. The theory goes: there is only so much oil in the earth, eventually there won't be any left, at which point society will break down and we all go back to some farm life. Entirely plausible. To that end, LG sold whatever vehicles he got and now drives a Honda Fit. I am never much into cars and did not know what a Fit looks like. One day I finally Googled it and the next day I saw one in my neighborhood, at the park where I make my almost daily 3K morning jog. It is a small car for LG's family, but he is making do with it. More power to you, Lone Gunman!

07 August 2008

Fabulous Scrabulous

It turned out this business with chronicling the Lone Gunman's Voluntary Simplicity is not as easy as it sounds. I started by going into the SameTime log on the company machine to find mentions of things LG got rid of. Much as I like SameTime, the task was still done on a company machine, on a Windows machine, too. It sounds too much like work, not something I want to do in my free time. Thus, I've been having a sort of Blogger Clogger, I know what to write but something was clogging the path from brain to blog. But here's something I have no trouble ranting and raving about... Scrabulous!

As mentioned some time ago, I was not that crazy about Scrabbles. There are only so many useful words you get out of it. Those that are good in the game, i.e. gain you high points, are of little outside it, in real life. Still, I gave Scrabulous in Facebook a try and got hooked on it. It was a total rip-off of the Hasbro game but who cares. It had good features like chatting, word look-up, notes-keeping, and more. Noted that I used past tense in referring to Scrabulous. Apparently Hasbro cared enough about the copyright infringement and had successfully gotten the app to shut down, at least in the U.S. and Canada, where Hasbro owns the license. The first few days Scrabulous went down, I was so desperate I challenged a Scrab friend to a chess game. She said she was good at it and I needed to play something. Some people tweaked their web browsers' proxy setting, or some other setting, so that they could play Scrabulous from servers in other countries. I didn't want to go that far, having read that the practice was not always successful. At about the same time, Hasbro came out with their own official version on Facebook. I thought that would be the fix but it turned out to be awful. Slow, no playing with strangers and potentially making new friends, no keyboard support, and did I mention slow? Luckily, the Agarwalla Brothers came up with Wordscraper. With the introduction of 4W and 5L (quadrupled word and 5-timed letter) tiles and random board layout, technically Wordscraper is not an exact copy of Scrabble. However, you can build your own board that, uh, can happen to be exactly like the real thing. Would Hasbro also sue to block Wordscraper? I hope not, as I've been enjoy it a lot. I even gave Wordscraper Blitz a try last night. It's just Wordscraper except that you play in a group. Everyone has their own but identically laid out board, and competes to get the highest point in 4 minutes. You won't get to make use of fancy, useful words as there is too little time for that. It is really intense and sometimes I found myself with a dumb mode, not able to come up with any words. I wasted only an hour or so and will try to stay away from it to spend more time on the blog.

Keep re-visiting, readers, Qaptain Qwerty is still around.

23 July 2008

Lone Gunman

Before I start chronicling Lone Gunman's road to a simpler life, a belated introduction and explanation is in order.

LG and I used to work in the same department in different cities. He was the sole representative of my extended group in the city of Dallas. A history buff, I easily associated his being the lone rep with the theory of a Lone Gunman doing all the work of killing President Kennedy. No mafia, no CIA, no Cuba, no Marilyn Monroe, just some crazy ex-Marine who decided to put his marksman skill to test. As Jonathan Coulton put it, just a magic bullet did the job. LG didn't mind the moniker and started to use it whenever he commented on this blog. It may have helped that I was always helpful with the various projects he was working on. Got fifty users to update their home paths? No problem, here's a KiX script. Need to set permission for a hundred users' home folders? This other KiX script will take care of it. The scripts are single-purpose and DOS-based, no fancy GUI, but they do the job, and always get produced on the fly, as needed, within hours. He appreciates my scripts and I appreciate his comment on the blog, his readership, and the beliefs he has.

LG is interested in Peak Oil, parenting, the environment (he's mostly a non-meat person), and of course voluntary simplicity. In the next few entries, perhaps months or years, we'll find out how successful he is with reaching for the simpler life.

18 July 2008

Keep It Simple

It is time I give voluntary simplicity (VS) some serious air time, so to speak. Lest you think I put down the movement by writing the little limerick about my friend Lone Gunman in Tampa giving away all his worldly possession except the clothes on his back. As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, the idea behind VS jives perfectly with my view. Want less and possess less then you place less of a strain on the environment.

I encouraged Lone Gunman to take before and after photos of his possession before getting rid of them but he hasn't done so. I also asked him to chronicle the process through a blog but he is too busy for it. So, being the wordier of the two of us, I'll be doing the writing for him. Perhaps every week I will list the stuff that disappeared from Lone Gunman's life.

In the mean time, for a good reading on VS from the mainstream press, check out the articles from New York Times and Time below.


07 July 2008

Independence Day 2008

I was away on an Independence Day weekend camping trip. In the United States, July 4th is Independence Day, the day when our forefathers so many years ago decided they had enough with British rule and created a new nation. Just some background in case any of my blog fans don't know American history.

Anyway, there I was not quite far from civilization and one of the first thing I did was to check for WiFi hotspots with my iPod touch. Naturally, none was to be found. A guy in my camping group commented that he wished he could check his email. Someone else, said that providing 'Net access for campers is perhaps an untapped market.

It was not my first camping trip, but there was still much that I learned. Last year, my camping trip was just one night in a big city park, with Park Rangers providing the food and service, including night hike and a failed stargazing exercise thanks to an uncooperative telescope. This year, the group consisted of some in-laws and ex-colleagues and their friends and the stay cover two nights and three days.

"Đi một ngày đàng, học một sàng khôn" is the Vietnamese proverb, roughly meaning "Make a day trip and you learn some tips". In this case, seeing platforms for the tents is a first for me. Up until last year, camping in my mind involves driving long wooden sticks into the ground for use as columns or the frame of the tent, then driving more, shorter stakes into the group and attach ropes to hold up whatever draped onto the frame. Nowadays, it seems tents come pre-built and are really easy to setup. Flexible and semi-detachable rods, for lack of better terms (or for being too lazy to research in Wiki), makes up the frame of the tent. Drive the rods through the "slots" in the tent roof and secure them with the "keys" at the four corners and you pretty much have the tent propped into shape. But that was no news to me this year. Besides the tedious work of setting up tent, my other wrong idea about camping in 2008 is that you sleep on the ground. Maybe on a carpet of grass, but still you must be on the ground, or at least having nothing but just the floor of the tent between you and the ground. Not so at Beaver Point Camp. There we had platforms raised on the sides of the hills, as shown in the photo. Upon seeing such platform, I instantly thought of Vietnamese aborigines (đồng bào Thượng) with their raised homes to keep them safe from wild animals. I suppose one advantage of raised platform for tents is that one can make use of hill sides as campground. More real estate if you will. Another would be to keep the tent drier in case of downpour. As a matter of fact, one tent in our group was on the ground and was indeed soaked the first night when it rained heavily. Another tent was also on the ground but it was dry, perhaps because it was on the top of the hill, whereas the drenched one was at the foot of the hill.

It was a great outdoor trip overall.

30 June 2008

Subway Riders - The Bad and the Ugly

Unruly and potentially criminal youths in wolf packs are not the only subway riders who get on my nerves. There are other riders and I even have nicknames for them...

The Living Room Guy
Most likely someone tall enough to play for the NBA, the Living Room Guy likes to stretch his legs out halfway across the width of the subway car. The uglier type would even put his size-14 sneakers onto the pole in front of him. Pity some poor child having to grab that pole later.

The Sentinels
Two people on two sides of the doors and there is only a little room left for people to squeeze through to get in and out. The uglier ones are those that stop dead in their track as soon as they enter the subway car. You have just a nanosecond or two to quickly squeeze through them before the car doors close.

The Castle Stormers
As soon as the subway doors open the Castle Stormers charge into the car to grab whatever seats are available. As a Chinese person, I find it even more embarrassing when they talk loudly in Chinese in trying to offer the loot to their colleagues.

The Gabbers
Much as I like to have cell phone service in the subway, it is nice to not have it. As it is sometimes there are too many people who love to do nothing other than... talk. That's when it's handy to have an iPod to tune them out. At least without cell service, I just have to put up with these gabbers when the subway is above ground.

The Pole Hogger
Some people love to own the poles in the subway car. All to themselves, the Hogger would lean onto the pole while reading some newspaper or book. Anyone wanting to have a hold on the pole would have to be tall enough to grab the top part or risk touching the Hogger's behind. Hm, maybe some pickpocket expert can teach the Hogger a lesson someday.

23 June 2008

Kristen Shirts

Apology goes to Kristen Shirts, who I erroneously referred to as Tristan Shea in the previous entry. It took a few Google searches to find the info about her. There are some real Tristan Shea's out there but they don't do the ukulele and they did not appear to be connected to the JoCo in any way. Read about Kristen Shirts at
The show itself can be found here


Shoot, I missed the second encore, but that's alright as it was way too late for me. Next time, I'll drive so I can stay all the way to the real end.

22 June 2008

Go JoCo Go!

Months after first hearing about Jonathan Coulton on TWIT podcast, I ended up at a live show by JoCo himself. The wonder of the Internet. Through his web site, I registered with Eventful to be kept informed of when the JoCo would perform in the New York metro area. He is famous now and is demanded all over the U.S. and in London too. Never mind the fact he and I both live in Brooklyn. The notice came, I almost instantly bought 3 tickets for my family, although I am sure Wife would only come along to keep company. My Son has a few JoCo favorites of his own, even if he doesn't get all the jokes.

The show overall was great. The Highline Ballroom is easily accessible by subway. There is even a subway entrance on 16th street so you just need to walk west a few avenues. The line to get into the place is in two pieces, one in front of the Ballroom and another past its neighbor Western Beef. I suppose Western Beef doesn't want Ballroom's customers blocking their entrance. At first I thought that the Ballroom took Beef's place but they just didn't have time to replace the signage.

Paul & Storm were the opening acts for JoCo, but really did more than that. They actually performed half of the show, from the beginning to intermission. They came back to add more flavor to JoCo's performance, too, with singing, tambourine, etc. A gal named Tristan Shea took part in the show with her ukulele off and on. Sorry, Tristan, I'll have to do some research to get your name right, but I can't do that lest I derail my train of thought. There was also a whole army of ukulele players at times, supposedly JoCo fans who were given the honor to participate. Very interesting!

Given the fact that JoCo is pretty cool about fans making things out of his music, I thought it would do no harm to also share part of the performance. Photos probably won't come out right as the lighting is set just to ruin any photos taken. Video recording looked promising and I managed to record a few songs. While recording Still Alive, some security guard told me to stop and I complied. I wonder if it's no video recording at all at Ballroom or just that song. JoCo wrote the song for the game Portal, whose copyright is held by Valve Software. My Son kept asking when JoCo would sing Re: Your Brains and the man finally sang it near the very end. I don't know if he had a second encore, but after JoCo, Paul & Storm, Tristan and her ukulele players came out to bow, we rushed out the door. It was already 10:30ish.

The subway ride home was scary. At one stop a bunch of teenagers hopped on and started to horseplay. They didn't actually physically touched anyone but they turned the subway car into their own playground. The group, consisting of boys and girls, was hooting loudly and cavorting about as their hormones raged unchecked. At the next stop, we went to the next car along with many other passengers. The next stop, those same "kids" followed their scared victims. Again they didn't physically harm anyone although some would remark about the passengers' clothes and appearances. One of them came up close to two Chinese women and made faces at them. All the while I couldn't help thinking about Bernhard Goetz. There will be no peace in this world with these unruly "kids" roaming freely. They are so unaware that their actions are not seen as representative of them, but of their whole race. It does not take much effort from threatening people to actually robbing them, especially when they travel in packs.

17 June 2008

The Simple Life

My friend the Lone Gunman told me about some Simple Life movement. I have the link on my work Windoze machine, but I don't have the time to boot it up, or do a quick Google, so suffice to say that we as a consumer society is too busy gathering possessions which in turn possesses us. Let us step back and live a simpler life, excellent idea. Make do with what you have, give away what you don't need. Shoot, I suppose that 3G iPhone will never find its way into Lone Gunman's paws...

One of the fun stuff I did in Facebook was joining the many groups it offers. One such group is some limerick groups. Limericks are poems that consist of a total of five lines, with rhyming happens on the first, second, and fifth lines, also third and fourth. Another pattern involving the two set of lines is that the first, second, and fifth lines have three metrical feet; the third and fourth lines have only two. Whatever metrical feet are you will have to read about in the link of the blog entry. I think a metrical feet is a set of unaccented and accented syllables. Whatever...

Here's a limerick for the Lone Gunman and his Simple Life:

There is a man in Tampa
Possession drives him banana
Give away he must
Simplify or bust
Now he has just his pajama!

14 June 2008

Dad and MOM

Happy Father's Day
May day not interrupted
Please no MOM Alerts

To all the mothers out there, I am not putting you down because it is almost Father's Day. The MOM in the above haiku is short for Microsoft Operations Manager. It's some kind of monitoring tool, produced by Microsoft, to send alerts when a server reaches a certain state, e.g. low disk space or high temperature. At least I think that's what it does. In my relatively new role in the so-called server management department, I hear "MOM alert" a lot but I am not involved in any of it.

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there, especially those in the digital trenches, fighting the digital evildoers everyday to keep your network humming.

08 June 2008

186 - 19-Year Itch

New York is baking! The cool weather finally let go of its grip and the heat wave moved in right away.

In the 1950s movie The Seven Year Itch, the story centers around the fact that back in those days, during the hot summer months in Manhattan, men would send their wives and kids up the river to some cooler summer homes. I thought it was a tradition that is no longer practiced, given the wide availability of air conditioners. I was surprised to learn from a colleague that he still does that and they have been together for nineteen years.

The Seven Year in the movie's title refers to the span of time into a marriage that the partners start thinking of infidelity. In the move, Marilyn Monroe played the role of The Girl, who moved into the floor above the main male character's apartment shortly after he bid adieu to his family for the summer. He had fantasies and felt tempted but in the end rushed upstate to meet his wife. I suppose absence makes the heart grow fonder.

30 May 2008

Optimus Prime, NOT!

I am good at math, computer, history, and words, but finance is something that I don't have a strong grasp of. I work in a financial firm as a network administrator and everyday I would come across phrases like investment bank, fixed income, and primer brokerage. To me they are just network resources to have permissions set for or data to copy from point A to point B. All the talk about the subprime crisis in the news got me interested, somewhat, in finances.

I listened to This American Life podcast #355, The Giant Pool of Money, then happened to read the article Mortgages and Madness in the June 2, 2008 issue of Newsweek. I now know a little more about the whole mess. So there was this giant pool of money that is the sum of all the money the world put away and it needed a place to invest to grow. One "new" area for it to go into was the mortgage market. In the beginning, it was standard practice for the lenders to verify the borrowers' incomes and so on, then the rules got relaxed so that more people would qualify for the loans, and someone got more commissions. It did not matter that some borrowers, or actually, many, could no way be able to re-pay the loans. New home owners lost their homes, Wall Street got too many houses to unload, houses' values drop, etc.

It is amazing that the whole thing actually happened. That after all these years there are no checks and balances to prevent the mess to even start. On one side you have the borrowers who should know better not to take on debts they cannot possibly pay back. Perhaps some of these people regularly rack up large credit card bills and pay the minimum amount because the money appeared to be free at the time of the purchases. On the other side you have Wall Street not caring who got the loan as long as there was a place for the available credit to be spent on. What a mess...