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.