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
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a Smilebox slideshow

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.