23 January 2009

Help, I Need Somebody, Help!

Don't know why but I thought I could use some self-help books. At a nearby library, I picked up the following books:

  1. 10-Minute Clutter Control Room by Room - Hundreds of Easy, Effective Tips for Every Room in the House, by Skye Alexander
  2. The Caregiver's Survival Handbook - How To Care for Your Aging Parent Without Losing Yourself, by Alexis Abramson with Mary Anne Dunkin
  3. Tweens - What to expect from - and how to survive - your child's pre-teen years, by Andrea Clifford-Poston
  4. Getting Things Done - The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen
Other than the Allen book, I picked the books just because they were there. I didn't hear about them elsewhere and don't know if they are the best in their areas. Got to start somewhere though.

The only book I'm done with is the Clutter one. It starts out nice, pointing out things that make sense, like getting rid of the physically large pieces restore space to the room the fastest. Or put things where they belong, or in Vietnamese, đâu vào đó. There are probably actually hundreds of tips, but many are really just expansion on the general ideas already outlined in the beginning. While I love recycling, some tips about recycling per se doesn't really into the clutter-buster theme. For instance, how can having a collector for food scraps under the sink, to collect materials for the backyard compost bin, help controlling clutter in the kitchen? Maybe the green fascists twisted the author's arm to include those tips. Really, I do love recycling myself.

I haven't started on the other books and most likely will start with Abramson's book next. After I finish Star Wars: Legacy of the Force - Exile, by Aaron Allston. So many books, so little time. I am curious if the Abramson book would help me, as some of the points of view are no doubt from a Western culture. My mother is still able to take care of herself, but there are things that she needs me to do. Her lessened hearing ability is very frustrating. Maybe there is a section in the book on the topic.

My son is 8 years old. Again, although he grows up in the U.S. and is very much an American boy, wife and I still brought him up the Asian way. Wonder how Ms. Clifford-Poston would help.

Last but not least, in my role as copy editor for ATPM, the online magazine, I kept reading about the various software for the Mac platform that can be used to help the user to achieve the art of stress-free productivity. If I really want to increase my productivity, a first step would be less time with Facebook word games, Yahoo!Answer non-questions and non-answers, etc.

Who knows, I may end up returning the books without reading them, as I usually do with movie DVDs. After all, one good tip with the Clutter book is to return things that you have borrowed for too long. So, even if I can renew the items over and over, why keep renewing if you simply don't have the time to read it?

22 January 2009

Calling All Newtown '85 Grads!

I finally found another use for Facebook other than playing word games and sending "things" back and forth to people. High school reunion!

I've gotten involved in planning for a reunion for my high school class of 1985. If you graduated from Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens, New York, in 1985, do check out


Note that this is not the same Newtown H.S. somewhere in Connecticut.

The reunion is set for 2010 but it is not that far away. So far we have only 45 members which I am sure is not much compared to all those that graduated that year. Let's bump that number all the way up! Someone already scanned in a bunch of photos and uploaded them. The reaction so far has been positive. It's nice to see how people change over the years and yet some features stay the same. Above is my own photo from the yearbook. Why the big glasses? To better see you, my dear child!

20 January 2009

Correction: Snapshot Overflow

In snapshot potshot, I wrote about the "danger" of snapshot overflow. I made it sound like you can lose production space to snapshot.

Let's say you have a 100-GB qtree with 20 GB allocated to snapshot and you already used up 14 of that 20 GB. You have 85 GB of used space. You delete 10 GB hoping to see 75 GB. However, 6 GB would go into snapshot and 4 will come out of production space, yes? Or does that mean you lose 4 GB of production space? You expected 85 - 10 = 75 but instead now you now see 85 used - 6 that went into snapshot + 4 that overflowed from snapshot + 4 that could not go into snapshot so that it really stayed, meaning now you now have 85 + 8 = 93 GB !!! Luckily, a NAS expert today pointed out to me that my thinking is wrong. The 4 GB that overflowed did leave the system and simply sort of came back. So, yes, you deleted 10 GB but only see 4 GB of additional free space but that's it. You don't really lose any production space to snapshot. The 6 GB will be noticeable whenever the snapshot schedule rolls off. There, never take anything you read on the Internet for granted unless definitely independent sources can confirm it.

19 January 2009

The Elusive Photo Hunt App

Photo Hunt. Picture Hunt. Find 7. Spot the Differences. Whatever it's called, it's a game in which you are presented two seemingly identical pictures and the goal is to find x number of differences between them. As a child, I played them occasionally in the newspapers. For a while, Parade Magazine, or whatever it was that came with the Sunday edition of NY Daily News, had them and I often played them with my nieces. I even got one niece two such books from Border's.

After getting to know ViquaGames.com's HideNSeek and Mahjong Towers Eternity, I set out on a quest to find a web site that would enable the creation of games using one's own photos. HideNSeek is a great game of the I Spy genre, even if you are stuck with canned objects. Mahjong Towers Eternity allows custom tileset using one's own photos. It would be nice if the game can be played as a Flash game and shareable on blogs, but it's good enough for now. Surely there must be a site where you can upload a photo, edit it and make it different in x places, then save it as a copy. Lastly, the game would be playable online.

It's been a disappointment quest. While there are many sites where you get to play the game online, for free, there is no place where you can upload your own photo and make a game out of it. If ViquaGames allows the use of one's own photos as background and quarantine the new puzzles a few hours to filter out any inappropriate content, surely there must be other web sites that can allow the creation of these find-the-differences games. There was this Windows app Photo Hunt Designer but even with that you can only upload your creations for others to download, not something to play right on the web. I can definitely made a non-interactive game - the player would just have to eyeball the picture and note on paper the differences, no clicking and seeing the differences highlighted. However, a visit to AllStarPuzzles ( http://www.allstarpuzzles.com/spotdiff/ ) gave me an idea. The spot-differences game there are not Flash and are probably JavaScript, something that I think I can manage. I've always wanted to learn a little more JavaScript anyway, having a goal in mind is helpful.

14 January 2009


If I tell you that there are certain things that cannot be found by Google or Wikipedia, would you believe me? My recent exposure to Yahoo!Answer led to a question about the use of 9OH!9 to refer to a city. I discovered that some people, in their MySpace profiles, list 9OH!9 as their city. The state is always California, so this mystical "city" must be somewhere in California. I love words and puns so the issue appears interesting to me.

Since there are five characters and California zip codes start with 9, I tried to figure it out from the zip code angle. I am familiar with the practice of substituting letters with numbers in writing, such as making hard-to-guess password. 9OH!9, I concluded, is supposed to be 90819, a zip code for part of Long Beach. The 9s are just themselves, but O as in orange is a stand-in for zero, H sounds like 8, and exclamation mark or bang ( ! ) looks like one ( 1 ). Frustratingly, USPS.gov does not list such a zip code. Still, I did come across some phone directories on the web that do list 90819, so can it be that the USPS.gov is wrong or outdated? Such was my first conclusion. It probably has something to do with the show 90210.

I like to treat this research scientifically. If someone can independently arrive at the same conclusion, then together we can declare my answer is the ultimate truth. Asking the librarian at the local library near my office did not help. He just Googled for it and couldn't offer anything else. In a perfect world, my librarian would log into Internet 2, a parallel Information Highway that is spam-free and ad-free which really has all the answer in the world. Oh well.

Next, I asked a cousin of mine, a teenage girl who has her own MySpace page, so perhaps it's something she already knows. She doesn't, but did mention that there's a musical band called 3OH!3. Wiki says that 3OH!3 got their name from the area code, 303, of Denver and surrounding area. I see the pattern now - 9OH!3 is probably 909. Wiki has an entry about 909 area code in California.

Instead of listing your real city, people choose to put down an area code. Other than appearing mysterious, I don't see the value of it - why not just fake the whole thing? If you live in Long Beach, CA, just say you are in Columbus, OH. There's probably a whole subculture out there. I invite someone from the subculture to speak up or provide links to it.


10 January 2009

The Points Don't Matter

I love the old TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway. It's basically an improv show with lots of input from the audience. The host, Drew Carey, give out points to the performers although the points don't matter. He always start the show saying "Welcome to Whose Line Is It Anyway, the show where everything is made up and the points don't count, like..." He would complete the sentence by giving an example of something that does not matter. I recently made up a few more that my readers can easily identify with:
  1. ...like the pardon promised to some guy by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich when he leaves office.
  2. ...like lanterns that run on solar energy but the emergency you are in is a nuclear winter.
  3. ...like a Windows virus downloaded by a stock iMac computer.
  4. ...like responses in Yahoo!Answers that just say "idk" ("I don't know")
  5. ...like following 1,000 people on Twitter and all of them post umpteen times a day.
  6. ...like letting Windows to Repair your malfunctioning wireless connection.
  7. ...like being Employee of the Month when your job is already scheduled to be moved to Mumbai.
  8. ...like Vietnamese Boat People hoping Malaysian or Indonesian Coast Guard to aid them as part of their job (Sure they will aid but they will also rob you of any jewelry or whatever they can take.)
  9. ...like the New York City subway map on weekends, when there usually are many route changes as result of constructions.
  10. ...like telling your children to clean up while they are engrossed in their video games.
Do you have any of your own?

07 January 2009

Amiga Users New and Old

Last night I had dinner with some Amiga friends. In case you don't know, the Amiga was an alternative computer platform beside IBM PC and Mac. In its glory days, there were shows and expos about the Amiga, several magazines with disks and CDs, user groups in most major cities, etc. I helped run an Amiga users group in NYC through various offices. Eventually, the platform disappeared from the general public and I myself gave up on the group. What was the use of meeting when there was nothing to talk about? When many of us already abandoned the platform?

Pretty much the only activity left of the group is the annual dinner. Around the holiday season, we would get together over dinner to wax nostalgia and discuss our current computing needs, sprinkled with other news of the week. I've been attending the dinner for the two years and this year we had the biggest turnout, a whopping nine people. Most attendees were old hands but we had a new friend to the group. He grew up computing on the Amiga and has been buying Amiga stuff off eBay. By chance, he came across the group on the Web and asked for help with getting a certain piece of system software. Someone in the group graciously provided him just what he needed. After the dinner, at home, our new friend did what he needed to do. A happy story for the holiday indeed, even though we really had the dinner in 2009 and not in the holiday season of 2008.

04 January 2009

A Literal Pain In The Butt

Once, there was this kid who
Took a trip to Singapore and brought along his spray paint
And when he finally came back
He had cane marks all over his bottom
He said that it was from when
The warden whacked it so hard

So sang "Weird" Al Yankovic in the song Headline News, which is a parody of The Crash Test Dummies' song called Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm. I didn't just come back from Singapore but my bottom is pretty painful nonetheless. That's what I got for not acting my age. I went ice-skating with Son and cousins in Wollman Rink in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I thought that ice-skating is like bicycling, that after x years not doing it I would just pick it up again. I expected my left foot to feel tired because I can only skate on one foot, i.e. push with the right and glide with the left. Well, I learned the hard way that ice-skating is not like bicycling and that it's a literal pain in the butt. The first time on the rink after more than ten years not skating, I had to hold onto the railing one time around the rink. I soon discovered that the skates were not a good fit and changed for a smaller size. That helped somewhat and gave me some confidence. I was able to actually moved around a bit without but then started to have some nasty falls. So much for trying to be a good model for my Son, who never tried skating before. He did the right thing and left the rink with just one walk around it. He said he would give skating another shot next weekend but I know for sure I will need more time for my old bones to recuperate.

03 January 2009

iPod Lost Its Touch

The Wife got me an iPod touch Xmas 2007. It was a pleasant surprise as we usually don't give each other presents. We both just agree that presents are for kids. For whatever reason, she made 2007 an exception and I was happy with the new toy.

While not as connected to the Internet as its big brother, the iPhone, the iPod touch, or iTouch, or even just touch for short, still proved to be useful. At work, I regularly hopped over to the local public library to use its free Wi-Fi to check email and post to Plurk and Twitter. Similarly, at home when my Son needed company as he grudgingly practices music, I would be in the room with him and catch up on the latest news on the web. On some occasions, I even updated apps on the iTouch using Wi-Fi while at home. I believe in distributing the work and don't want to tie up my laptop with every little things I do. The iTouch is perfect for email and updating social networks.

A few days ago out of nowhere the iTouch could no longer connect to any Wi-Fi networks. By default, when I'm home it should connect to my Westell DSL router. Sometimes when I first enter the house the iTouch would already be connected to some neighbor's open network. Perhaps the neighbor lives somewhere between my house and the subway station. I actually dislike that because performance is lower when I'm on the neighbor's network. These days, the iTouch is totally blind to any Wi-Fi networks. I already tried resetting network settings and then all settings. I am reluctant to erase data on the iTouch since it is unlikely if the touch cannot even see any networks to start with. Also, all the laptops in the house can see the router. A quick search on Google reveals that it is not a new problem but there seems to be no answer. I will have to make a trip one of these days to see if the Geniuses at my local Apple Store can help.

It is very tempting to use this problem as an excuse to just go out and buy a new touch. But that's just consumerism. Buy, buy, buy, don't fix! Instant gratification! Must have it, now! I will try to live without portable Wi-Fi for a while. It won't be easy, but I'll try. I'll try to make use of the touch for what it's still good for. I certainly can still listen to music and podcasts, albeit mostly in mono as the headphone jack stopped working properly some weeks ago. To hear stereo, I would have to push the headphone plug into the jack to have better contact. Hmm, wonder if the problems are related... Maybe with all these miniaturization, pushing too far into the jack somehow loosen the Wi-Fi antenna? Who knows? Anyway, I still can use the American Heritage dictionary to help me play crossword puzzles in the newspapers. I would learn a little about history, geography, or the arts, when I play x-word, but not when I squander time on Wordscraper and other Facebook word games. I still can use the touch's calendar function to keep track of daily events, sort of like a diary, except I don't write as much because of the painful process of using the on-screen keyboard.

In a few months maybe I'll succumb to the temptation and just get a new touch. It better be a newer model with a camera. The second generation with the speaker and larger capacity does not justify the upgrade. In the mean time, I will say no to consumerism and make the most of the less touchy-feely iPod touch...

02 January 2009

Review Chinese

In school, overall my 8-year-old Son is not doing as good as he used to. I suppose as one grows older one gets distracted by other things in life. In his case it's probably video games and TV.

It is not that he is failing at school or anything. Except in Chinese school, that is. He got a 45 on a test then jumped to 55 - alas that is still a failing grade.

To help Son know his Chinese better, I enlisted the help of Mahjong Towers Eternity (MTE). There are many mahjong solitaire games out there but the special thing with MTE is that not only you can design your own layout you can also make your own tile set. I used Art Text to create the fancy-looking Chinese characters, 36 of them, based on what Son is learning in Chinese school. The thing I like about the particular layout shown, called Monky (sic) Balls by Donnell in Nanas House (wherever that is), is that it is one-dimensional, i.e. no tile lays atop another. I hope Son will enjoy playing it on the computer but if needed I can even print it out for him to play during the subway ride to Chinese school on Saturdays.

There are actually two stories behind MTE. The first is that it is the first software that I actually bought twice. I hope it is the first and only. Few weeks ago I came up with the idea of using MTE to help Son with his Chinese school. He somewhat enjoyed playing the demo of MTE with tiles made from faces of cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. When I bought the software and copied it to the Games folder, I discovered that I already had MTE. When ran from that copy, the game was fine even though the demo period had expired. I happened to visit my purchase history in BigFishGames.com, where I bought the game, and sure enough I bought it around the same time in 2007! Maybe there was a 50% sale then, too. The mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it is also so annoying to be forgetful.

I noticed that the activation code for the game, both for the 2007 and the 2008 purchases, are the same, so I wrote to BigFishGames tech support asking if I should have gotten a different code. I resigned to the fact that it was my fault for not remembering that I already bought the game. I was ready to give the second copy away. I don't want to help pirate software and try to be honest as much as possible. It turned out the kind folks at BFG decided to give me a coupon for a free game anyway. Nice!

The other story is the bug with custom tile set. I bought MTE mostly for its ability to import images for use as custom tile set. I was much frustrated as the game would gleefully create the tile set but upon exit and returning it would not find the newly made set. BFG tech support was of little help, only advising that I should re-install the game and even try disk repair ect. Luckily at about the same time that I contacted tech support I also posted the question on the MTE forum. Someone actually gave me just the answer needed, namely the filename for the custom tile set has to be renamed to .cct from whatever it was. Wow, must be some kind of bad port of the game from Windoze to Mac. I informed BFG tech support of the fix and the good chap gave me coupon code for yet another free game. Talk about good service! BFG sure has a loyal customer in me now.

By the way, if ViquaGames has those nice user-made Hide-N-Seek games, is there a similar service elsewhere to create mahjong solitaire games, playable on the web, with custom-made tiles?