21 February 2009

Waste Less

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? But too much Facebook time and Plurking sure waste a lot of Jack's time, too. Here's how to waste less with all these social networking activities. Especially applicable if you find yourself constantly checking email, Twitter updates, new Wall writings, or blog comments...

  • Gmail's Select Unread followed by Mark Read is a good thing to use. Nowadays a lot of my mail is not personal stuff, but not spam either, like announcement for new games from distributors that I like to know about, newsletters, news alerts, etc. When time is tight, just make them all Read and move on.
  • In Plurk, Mark All As Read is my friend. I don't follow that many people but some days there are still 20 or more new entries. Mark All As Read is what I do, then if I have time I go back to read some entries. BTW, I never understand how people follow 100s or 1000s of people. You lose that personal connections at that high number.
  • Also in Plurk, how about check up on things only if there are x updates? I use 5, but feel free to bump that number up. Then resist the urge to check Plurk when there are fewer than that figure. Likewise, you can do the same with email, unless you have some really urgent email expected.
  • In Facebook, if you play some word games in which each game has x matches, pay attention to what score your opponent has at the end. If he already played all his matches and has a total of 100, no need to earn 1000 points, just 101 is enough to win.
  • Also in Facebook, visit your groups only if there are new activities. Or maybe just once a week will do. Some groups either have too much activities or too little, so once a week is a good schedule.
  • Buying bones for your neighbor's dog so he can leave your Lil Green Patch alone? Like how Costco and BJ's work, buy in bulk so you don't have to buy so often. Better yet, scrap the app altogether. It is OK to ignore these inane back-and-forth giving.
There, with all the time you save, you can go join some more back-and-forth giving schemes...

18 February 2009

What Recession?

Many times when the news talk about the current economic crisis, some mention of past crises would be made. There was some stock market crash in the 80's then there was 9/11. Truth is I cannot honestly say I felt any impact when those crises happened. In the 80's I was still in college and I suppose keeping up with all the homework and projects was enough to keep me busy. I was living at home and had some spending money from summer jobs and scholarships to meet life's basic necessities. After 9/11, surely we did not travel anywhere for a year but it was because of the nature of the terrorist attacks. Both the wife and I still had a job to support our baby son, the mortgage, the second-hand car's maintenance, etc.

It makes a lousy pick-up lines at singles bar but the thing is I simply have been living a relatively simple life. Simple compared to the rest of consumer-oriented America, that is. Yes we have broadband Internet access, a few computers, paid TV services, vacations, dining out, etc. But then again we don't constantly throw out old stuff just to make room for new stuff. Well, my wife's occasional shopping sprees leaves much to be desired but I hope to make up for that by spending little on clothes and shoes. My 10-year-old tube TV's physical volume control is getting wacky, lowering actually makes the sound louder, but I have no plan of getting a flat screen TV, as we can live with using the remote to control volume. It was years after music CDs first came out that we had a CD player. Same thing for DVD. BlueRay may be in our household, oh, maybe five years or more from now. While I would love to get the latest unibody MacBook, my PowerBook G4 running on Tiger is still working. Slowly some apps are available for Leopard only, but so far nothing critical enough for me to make the jump.

It helps to grow up in a different world, like Viet Nam, where life was more difficult compared to the U.S. You appreciate things more, don't take things for granted, and are less wasteful. Eight months in the refugee camps of Indonesia made us appreciate the relatively good life we have now even more. At least I am. I know Vietnamese living in the U.S. who quickly adopted the wasteful lifestyles that many people in the U.S. have.

Of course should either I or the Wife lose our job in the next few months, we will certainly feel the effect of the current economic condition. Our Son probably whines a lot if we have to give up DirectTV or have fewer vacations, but as long as we have the basic necessities like food, electricity, gas, heat, a roof over our heads, enough gasoline for the weekend usage, and broadband 'Net access I think we will be OK.

14 February 2009

More Cubees

It was the evening before Valentine's Day and perhaps I should be making Val-09 ( http://www.cubeecraft.com/cubee/val-09 ), but I'm done with Valentine's Day years ago - it's just another day for the florists and candy stores rip the men's wallet. Instead, I made Darth Vader, partly to go with another project I was working on with my son. Just last week, for some reason son is suddenly interested in putting together the 3D globe that Aunt O gave him. It appeared difficult to assemble, but once you sort out all the pieces by number range, e.g. 0 to 100, 101 to 200, then even sub-sort the ranges, it was pretty easy. You have to go around the globe, but we are making pretty good progress. The Star Wars fan in me could not help thinking of the destroyed Death Star and I had to make a Darth Vader cubee to go with it. Eventually, I plan to make a bunch of Stormtroopers to line up as Vader march through the lines.

Darth Vader is my second Cubee. The first was Mario, of Nintendo fame. What scene can one possibly make with Mario and Darth Vader. How about, [heavy breathing], "Mario, I am your father!" ?

09 February 2009


There is so much out there on the Internet it is next to impossible to keep up with the fun stuff available. Thanks to my Twitter follower Jake Marsh I learned about Cubeecraft.com. While the creation of Cubeecraft are paper-based, they are not origami as it involves scissors and other cutting tools. Still, perhaps because of the pop culture facet of the design, it is a lot of fun. I salute the designer Chris Beaumont for all the great work!

I decided to give it a try and chose Mario, from the Nintendo game, just because it is something my son would recognize. Much as I would love to use all the scrap paper I have, Cubeecraft toys really should be made with thicker paper, not your standard 20-lb office stuff. Using scissor is fine for the beginning, but when it comes to the small areas, an X-acto knife is ideal.

If you have the patience, give Cubeecraft a try. My first handiwork took me like about an hour, all done in one night. It is shown here atop my Time Machine network hard drive and next to a trackball, to provide a sense of scale. The pieces stay together without glue or tape, but are not strong enough to be treated as dolls, so they are good for display purpose only.

08 February 2009

The Long and Winding Road

For me, so far the nature trail in Marine Park is the road not completely traveled. I visited the area many times, either for my son to play in Lenape Playground or P.S. 278 Playground. Two weeks ago, while waiting for a movie in nearby Kings Plaza, I decided to venture onto the trail with my son and a nephew. By myself I could have covered the whole trail in one trip, but with the kids it was not the same. We got about 1/3 of the way and had to head back. It was where there was a slight hill with the trail splitting up, one way going up the hill and the other around it. Today, to avoid being bored to death at Kings Plaza while the women go shopping, I took my son, same nephew, and a niece, back to the trail. This time I entered from the Salt Marsh Nature Center in hope of connecting to the point where I had to turn back last time. Alas, it was late in the evening and my son was whining about being tired. I will have to come back one day by myself to travel the entire trail.

01 February 2009

Faded Memory

I am finally done with entering all 773 alumnus from Newtown High School Class of 1985 into a Google Doc spreadsheet. The geek in me could not stand constantly flipping through the yearbook looking for a particular first name. When the reunion coordinator needed volunteers to help out with the process, I raised my hand, sort of, to create the list. It's 2009, you must have a digital repository to work from.

It is handy to have all the names entered. Twenty-four years is a long time and many people changed their names since then. Not just the women getting married and using the husbands' names. A good friend of mine changed his last name to better match the Chinese pronunciation. I myself stopped using my original Vietnamese first name. As long as the people didn't change their name totally, I can fly around the xls to locate their own name. Someone may have changed her last name, but if she was the only person with a particular first name, bingo!

It was a good chance to put Google Doc through its pace. I look forward to the offline Google Doc because the only version, while easy to share with the World Wide Web, is a slowpoke. I had to slow down my typing to let it catch up. At least it has an equivalent of End + Arrow in Excel. If you have a big chunk of data to go through, in Excel pressing End then the arrow key in that direction take you to the next contiguous cell that is furthest away. With Google Doc spreadsheet, the key combo is Ctrl + Arrow. So if I am at alumni #1 and need to quickly jump to alumni #773, instead of pressing Page Down several times, Ctrl + Down Arrow takes me right there. Neat!

There were certain high school memories that I still remember vividly and then there were others that totally disappeared. As I went through the yearbook, time after time I would learn that 24 years ago I knew a certain person, because he/she wrote in my yearbook. Some of them would address me by some nickname, others knew that I was going to Cooper Union, etc. Scary, but the mind sure works in some amazing way.