Tuesday, December 19, 2006

UNSilent Night
Nowadays, the holiday season seems to get more and more stressful every year. Large crowds and long lines at the mall. People worrying about what presents to give and who to send them to and figuring out which relatives you'll go visit. Why not take a break from all that and take a stroll through the city

, I'm planning to participate in a really cool public performance art event in San Francisco called Unsilent Night. The event is organized by a musical composer, Phil Kline, who has made a bunch of tapes and CD's of his music which is intended to be played by a mass of pedestrians holding portable boom-boxes. The slight variances in everyones boomboxes and the delays between when they press "play" are all part of the ethereal sense of the music. Phil will be distributing 4 different tracks of his music, all meant to be played simultaneously. If you thought 5.1 surround sound was good, wait till you hear 500.1 surround!
I heard about this on public radio this morning, and the people who called in, couldn't stop raving about how great the experience was. This event has been so successful that it has spawned the same event in 16 cities around the world.

The San Francisco event will begin at 7pm, Dec. 23rd in Mission Dolores Park. His website is www.philkline.com and you can download the tracks of his music (for a short time) by going to "unsilent night"->"do it yourself". If you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out his schedule to see if there is an event in your area.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hacking Democracy

If you believe in Democracy, you should see the documentary, Hacking Democracy (the clips are at the bottom). If you think I'm just some sort of conspiracy theorist, tell me how did Al Gore get -16,022 votes at a precinct in Florida? Yes... that's a minus sign. He got negative votes!!!
Even if the candidate that you voted for won, do you think its fair for your vote to NOT be counted? Do the ends justify the means?
I'm not saying that any party or candidate has rigged any election. I'm saying that if you can't trust the very foundation on which every democracy is based on, the counting of votes, then can you really be sure that you are in a democracy? Look at the picture below from the Washington Post (you can click on it for the full sized version). Even our slot machines are more secure than our voting machines!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

BMW Films: The Star
I know this is old but its a Must See for any car enthusiast, even if you don't care for BMW's. Be sure to have your speakers turned on or some headphones on. You're viewing patience will be rewarded.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Perfect Garlic oil Pepperoncino Spaghetti Recipe
I found out about this dish when I was at my friend's place. His fiance had boiled up some spaghetti noodles, but there was nothing else that even resembled a sauce. Strangely enough, she pulled out some packets of seasonings and oils (like the kind you get with instant ramen noodles) and proceeded to dump them on the cooked noodles and just like that, the dish was done. Note: the correct name for this dish is "Aglio Olio Peperoncino". The Japanese call this Peperoncino Spaghetti even though the peppers (peperoncino) make up only a minute amount of the whole seasoning payload.
It wasn't bad, I could definitly taste the garlic in there, but I felt that the flavors weren't strong enough. I guess that's what you can expect from a packet that's been sitting on the store shelf for a while. Anyhow, I decided it was time to make my own version, with fresh ingredients and a lot more flavor.

Ingredients: (1 serving)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
125 grams dry spaghetti pasta
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Hot Chili flake
2 slices of bacon
1/2 onion, chopped
1 pinch finely chopped parsley (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a couple quarts of water to boil in a large pot. When its reached full boil, Add salt to boiling water until it becomes salty, then add your pasta. Meanwhile, cut up the bacon into bit sized pieces and fry in a skillet. In a separate pan, lightly fry the minced garlic and olive oil over low heat until golden brown. Season with two pinches of salt. Add chili flakes one minute before the garlic is done. Be careful not to overcook the garlic! If it becomes brown and bitter, its overcooked. When the bacon is done, drain them on a paper towel. Remove all the fat from the pan except for a tablespoon and saute the chopped onions until sweet and translucent. Season with salt & pepper. When the pasta is al' dente, drain and add it to the pan with the chopped onions. Toss with the bacon and fried garlic and oil and serve. Garnish with chopped parsley and ground pepper.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Geico Caveman Commerical
For some reason I really like the music in the latest Geico caveman commerical where the caveman is at the airport. Play the video below to see what I mean (Click on the play button on the bottom left to avoid leaving my site).

I found out that the song is "Remind Me" by Royksopp. Unfortunately, when I went to their site, their version of the song sounds very different (although the music video is pretty cool). See video below:

Luckily, I found what's been called the "Geico version", but this time the video is made by some guy on youtube, so you can ignore that.
Here it is:

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Good Night, and Good Luck
The movie Good Night and Good Luck is one of the best civic minded movies to come out in the past decade. What a great movie to watch before our Nov 7th elections! It tells the story of Edward R. Murrow's courageous stand against Senator McCarty during the time in the US known as The Red Scare.
For those of you unfamiliar with US history, The Red Scare was a period in the 1940's-50's when people were deafly afraid of being labeled a communist. The fear was so great that suspicion was enough destroy careers and bring about convictions. Sen. Joesph McCarthy was responsible for finding and bringing people suspicious of communist activities to hearings and trials. However, in these trials, any semblance of a just hearing was thrown out the door as speculative, inconclusive, and sometimes made up evidence was presented against the accused. So great were these injustices that the term McCartyism was coined. Those who would stand up to McCarty feared that they too would be suspected of communism. It wasn't until an anchor from CBS, Edward R. Murrow, showed the public how McCarty's tactics were used to subvert the people's civil liberties. Murrow's reports galvanized the resentment of the American people to McCarthyism, which ultimately led to McCarthy's demise.
The Movie
The movie really shows us the finese that Murrow and his partner Fred Friendly uses to attack McCarthy. Particularly interesting is their discussion on what constitutes fair and balanced journalism. Although seeing how these two brought about the downfall of Sen. McCarthy was the main draw of this movie, the main idea underwriting this whole story is a civic one. That is, as citizens we cannot "confuse dissent with disloyalty." It is our ability to voice our dislike of policies and open discussion without reprisal that prevents us from succumbing to the fears that McCarthy so easily manipulated. Unfortunately today, the Republicans and the Bush Administration have been working diligently to connect the dots between dissent and disloyalty that they just make me sick!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Photo Gallery Back up... Again!
Looks like it was an issue with the powersupply. Luckily it wasn't the disk containing the photo gallery and everything was the way I left it once I got a replacement PSU installed. The one that failed was from an Antec Sonata computer case. I've read several negative reviews of Antec's NeoPower power supply which I believe is the same as the one they put in my case. The case plus power supply was less than a Ben Franklin. Comparatively, my new standalone PSU was $75 so I'm guessing that Antec went on the cheap side with their included PSU. My new PSU is the ENERMAX Liberty ELT400AWT ATX12V 400W Power Supply. Its nice that it has modular cable management system, meaning that you don't have to find a place to put those 500 unused cables coming out of the box. Now my case looks much cleaner and the computer appears to be rock steady stable. Now I just need to find a good UPS for everything since the battery has gone out on me.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ahhh, the PAIN!!!: My struggle with shingles
This past Friday I was diagnosed with a case of the shingles. Nope, not the kind you find on your roof. Shingles is an encore presentation of the same virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster virus (VZV). When you get over chickenpox, you really haven't killed it off. The virus merely retreats into your nerve cells next to your spine and lies dormant waiting to strike again when the conditions are ripe. When that happens, the virus travels down the nerve endings like its on a highway until it reaches your skin where it forms a rash with blisters and lesions. At this stage it is called herpes zoster and the fluid from these blisters can be highly contagious, but ironically you can only develop chickenpox from this exposure, not shingles.
Despite the fact that the disease only affected small area of my head and the area around my left eye, I can say that Shingles is a REAL bitch! The problem is that at this stage, the virus is attacking my nerve cells and when nerve cells want to communicate that they are in trouble,...they don't speak softly. So what appears to be a small rash with blisters feels more like a nail being driven into my head. I had to shave my head because the weight of my hair was putting an excruciating amount of pressure on the affected area.
My doc, prescribed me some acyclovir and anti-viral med that stops the virus from reproducing. At this stage it looks like my condition is under control. My blisters have scabbed over and the pain greatly reduced, but I wonder??? After doing some research on the net, I find that its relatively rare for someone my age (27) to get this, without using some sort of immunosuppressant drug or being overly stressed or afflicted with some immunity supressing disease (eg leukemia, AIDS). Should I investigate my own condition further?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Hacking Google Maps
Recently, I've been playing around with Google's Mapping API. The way in which you enable GoogleMaps on your website is by including a small snippet of code on your website which gives you access to all their Javascript functions. If you're familiar with Javascript then seeing a line like this isn't new for you:

<\script src="http://maps.google.com/maps?file=api&v=2&key=" type="text/javascript">

Same as usual, Right? Well the complication starts when you want to dynamically load this javascript. Since this line makes a request to Google everytime the browser loads it, I don't really want my page to load any slower if Google's website isn't working. To do this I first went to this site
Dynamically Loading
External JavaScript Files
which demonstates how to do dynamic javascript loading. Unfortunately, when I tried it with GoogleMaps, it didn't work. Furthermore, all my attempts to post questions to the GoogleMap's Google Group discussion board failed (my posts never showed up!). It wasn't until I ran the script debugger that I discovered that GoogleMaps is using their own function to load javascript, but their version doesn't support dynamic loading! To fix this, I had to create my own javascript proxy. It simply fetches the javascript from Google, then replaces their script loading function, with my dynamic version, and returns it to whoever requests it. Then in my webpage, I use another dynamic loading function to load the javascript coming from my proxy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm on flickr now (Don't worry I'm still maintaining my photo gallery website which is still down with hardware issues.) The photos on flickr can be quite amazing. I've never seen such beautiful shots before. Makes me wish I had one of those high-end digital SLR's, but alas my wifey wont let me spend so much money on a new camera when we already have a relatively good (but old) one, the Canon Powershot G1. For the most part, I agree with her. Photography is like most other forms of art, the more/better tools you have, the more flexibility you get. The real difference between a great shot and a bad one is in the photographer, not the camera. To kickstart my point, check out some of my photos taken with my canon: Link to flickr
In my upcoming blogs, I'll be writing about how to take great photos with whatever camera you have. I'll also write about what things you will want to get if you have some spare cash lying around.

Why is flickr so cool? Well, the main reason, I think, is that you are limited in the amount of photos that you can upload to their site. Even if you pay the $24.95 per year for their subscription, you can upload at most 2Gigs of photos per month (Not that I would ever exceed that (except for the initial upload). However, their free version limits you to only 20MB per month which means you gotta be really discerning about which pics to upload if you expect anyone there to look at your photos. On top of this you can join multiple Groups which let you post your shots to the group's pool of photos. For instance I'm a member of the Thai and Peru groups now and so have posted several of my photos into their pools, which draws members to look at my photos which means my photos show up more often when you search for them.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Long Live the Hamster
I found out yesterday that one of my favorite TV personalities Richard Hammond aka "The Hamster" was seriously injured in a 300 mph crash while filming an episode for the upcoming season of TopGear. Doctors say he suffered serious brain damage, but the damage was limited to the area of the brain responsible for higher level brain functions such as personality. So far he's had a miraculous recovery, but time will tell if there will be any long-term mental effects. Lets pray he makes a speedy recovery back to TV.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Those Germans are Frick'n Smart!
I was watching one of my favorite show Fifth Gear and discovered that the germans at Volkswagon created a Golf that can actually race around the track as well as any human can! You just lay out a bunch of cones to describe the track like in a autocross event. The car does an training lap at around 25-35 mph to calculate the fastest line. Then its able the race around the track. In the test, the car managed to get within 1 sec of the human racer's time even with an extra person in the car. Not too bad, i'd say.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why you should call your kid 'Loser'
For someone who doesn't read books, I still managed to take in a few chapters of this great book on why things happen from a statistical point of view. The book, titled Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is a great read, even though I haven't read the whole thing. A fundamental issue with most statistics is that they can lie! How many times have you heard that a recent survey discovered that coffee is good for you, and then see another survey discover how bad it is later? Unfortunately, too many people in our society take sureys and studies too seriously without thinking about other explainations for the perceived outcome. The statistics themselves don't lie, but often enough, the interpretation is often skewed to match the desired conclusion (Hopefully, you've figured out that the Smoking doesn't cause lung cancer studies sponsored by the tobacco companies are indeed false!). Before you believe any other study in your life, remember this phrase Correllation is not Causation. What does this mean? Well, just because you see two separate things happening together, it doesn't always mean that one caused the other to happen. Sometimes there is a third reason that something happens and those two incidents are the side effect. This concept is fundamental to every statistician in the world, yet oblivious to the general population. This book shows that to really understand the world, you really have to see it from all sorts of angles. Although nobody's perfect, a good statistician must test all possible factors to a situation before interpreting their outcomes. The book shows us how we really should be getting out studies from the 5 o'clock news, but never do.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Netflix Prize for Nerds
A million dollars is up for grabs for the nerd or geek that can improve the accuracy of Netflix's recommendation system, called Cinematch, by 10 percent. The recommendation system works by asking the customers to rate several movies that they have seen on a 5 star scale. Then based on the ratings that all the other customers have given, the system will predict how many stars that customer would have given a movie that they haven't rated. Contestants will be given a modified dataset of anonymous customers and their ratings for many of the movies that Netflix carries. Your task is to create your own prediction system, train it with this dataset, and put it toe-to-toe with Netflix's own Cinematch. If there is no winner, a $50,000 progress prize will be given out to the contestant who has done the best so far. Given that I am a geek and a nerd I will be partaking in this endeavor so wish me luck!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Acronym of the day: WAF
WAF stands for Wife Acceptance Factor. Essentially it means how well your new Dolby Digital, THX Certified 5.1 Surround Sound system fits in with your wife's Pottery Barn catalog inspired living room. I picked up this acronym while searching for a replacement to my 1000 watt Onkyo 6.1 system (which is now for sale if anyone wants it). WAF is talked about frequently on all the audio/video forums like Audioholics, AVSForum, and the HTPC/PVR sites. Apparently, there are a lot of husbands with wives who can't see the beauty of massive vibrating wooden boxes pointed at their heads with wires splayed all around the living room.
Nowadays, it seems like everybody is making up some sort of certification/approval/rating that is conspicuously placed all over various products and its packaging. Looking at a modern audio system, you might expect to see these badges: DTS 96/24, DTS decoder, Dolby Digital, DTS-ES decoder, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital Surround EX, THX Certified. Even the box that my router comes in has all these badges: WiFi Certified bg, SecureEasySetup WPA2 & WMM, Compatible with | Wireless-B (802.11b) Wireless-G(802.11g), Symantec Internet Security.
Some of these badges also carry a monetary value. You can't just willy-nilly stick one of these badges on. In some cases you gotta pass some form of actual certifcation and pay some guy a lot of money to do it. Since this could be a very lucrative venture, I'd like to be the first to introduce my own certification... The WAF Rating. The purpose of this is simple. Customers who buy things with badges are typically guys. These guys may not always involve their wifes in the buying process (how may women do you see at BestBuy?). Rather than buying something that may force them to sleep on the couch, it would be great to have a product independantly approved by a jury of wives so they could know how likely they can get away with buying it. My rating system is also very simple. It incorporates your wife's best friends....diamonds. It is based on a 5 diamond system. Every diamond you see here is one less diamond you will have to buy her to let you keep this product. If you see 5 diamonds here, you're off the hook. 4 diamonds, a small diamond ring. 3 diamonds, a pair of diamond earrings. 2 diamonds, you better open an account at Tiffany's, etc.

If you're interesting in certifying your product for a WAF rating, please leave me a comment.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I wonder why I never tried these dating services
I'm very happily married now, but after seeing what my competition was on these dating services, I can't help but wonder how well I would have done. For instance, take a look at this guy:

I can imagine what my conversation would be on the first date:
Me: "So what did you find most interesting about my self-introduction video?"
My Date: "The part where you said you didn't live with your parents."
Why Butter should only be used for Cooking!
I decided to rent the movie Last Tango in Paris after hearing such great reviews by Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) on his podcast. His review was something on the order of "watch it at different points of your life and you'll gain a new appreciation of it each time you see it". Or at least you'll get an appreciation of Marlon Brando and see a hot chick in the process. Sounds good right.... Wrong!!!
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get over how pretentious this movie was. The plot is too simplistic, yet drawn out and revealed in multiple disjointed scenes to make the viewer feel like they figured it out. The film tries to make you ignore the crummy plot by throwing in a lot of sex scenes, but these too appear under quite dubious circumstances.
Marlon Brando is pretty much speaking gibberish the whole time. Do I get what he was trying to say? Yes! Do I feel any more enlightened now? NO! The first problem is that his character is somewhat of an American jerk who bullies the female character throughout the film so between the times when he's telling the girl to take off her clothes he's supposed to be sharing with you some gems of truth. Somehow I just can't take those messages seriously. Perhaps Ash from the movie Army of Darkness put it best when he says "That's just what we call pillow talk, baby, that's all." The second problem is that his comments seem all too staged, like an artsy film made by a college kid in film school. Lastly, Brando appears to be over-acting the whole time. I'm not sure if that's just how Brando is (I've only seen him in Apocalypse Now and the Godfather).
Films that I consider to be great have to engage the viewer. They must have believable situations and believable characters. Their messages are not delivered as monologues from a single character, but through the interactions between the characters. This film fails on all fronts.

Okay, enough of my negativity. Let me introduce to you a movie that is similar in concept but inherently better. Its called Amant, L' aka The Lover. I won't spoil it by giving you a one line synopsis of the plot, which would invariably color your impression of the film. If you break down the plot, you may think, its one of those movies, but you'd be mistaken. This is truly a movie where the journey is more important than the destination. I think the imdb comment "Deeply evocative and so real that we nearly felt the rain and hot humidity, we were swept along on this unique journey." hits the mark. I'll be frank, this movie has sex scenes, but they are all warranted, unlike in Last Tango. The scenes tie in perfectly with the imagery and symbolism of the movie and most of all occur naturally as a progression of the plot. It doesn't appear to be thrown in to keep the viewer from falling asleep like in A History of Violence.

If you haven't seen either movie i'd encourage you to do so and leave me a comment. I think you'll see the similarities between the two movies (especially in what apartments represent), yet become appreciative of they can turn out so differently.

If you're wondering what my title means and don't want to watch the movie, lets just say that yes, butter makes things slippery, but there are just some places where it shouldn't be used!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Change your own engine oil!
I've racked up a little over 4000 miles on my Honda S2000. The Honda dealer says I should wait till I hit 7500 miles before the first oil change so that the "break-in oil" has a chance to do its magic. Somehow I don't think I should wait that long, but we'll see. You definitely shouldn't switch to synthetic oils too early or else your piston rings won't seat and you will just lengthen the break-in process, but that's another story.

Anyways, lets get down to business. To change your own oil properly you'll need a couple things:
  1. A couple quarts of motor oil (make sure you get the correct weight like 10w-30)
  2. An oil filter that fits your car
  3. Crush washers for the drain bolt
  4. An oil pan, preferablely one that can hold all the oil in your engine.
  5. An oil filter wrench, I prefer one that looks like a hoop with a handle
  6. Something to lift the car up, ramps, jacks & jackstands, lifts, whatever you can afford. I recommend that you spend a little more on safety and get something that wont let the car fall on your head!
  7. Chocks to stick around the wheels so your car doesn't move anywhere.
  8. A Torque wrench (optional)
  9. A wrench or adjustable wrench for the drain plug/bolt.
The basic steps are:
  1. Chock your wheels and jack up your car or drive your car up your ramps and chock your wheels.
  2. If you jacked up your car, position some jack stands under your car, and lower the car onto the jackstands. This is much safer. Jacks are not designed to carry a continuous load. Also be careful where you position the heads of your jacks and jackstands. The underbody only has a few jacking points that are reinforced enough to support the weight of the car.
  3. Open your hood and remove the oil fill cap. This will let the oil come out easier.
  4. Position the oil pan under the drain plug.
  5. Get under the car and remove the oil drain plug/bolt. Extending the length of your wrench with a small pipe can really help remove stubborn bolts.
  6. Using the oil filter wrench, remove the oil filter. Use foil to cover the areas where oil might drip when removing the oil filter. Be sure to drain the oil filter into the oil pan.
  7. Take some new oil and lube up the rubber seal on the new oil filter.
  8. Install the new oil filter as tight as you can using hand pressure. No wrenches.
  9. Wait till the oil stops dripping out. Your patience means less crude in your engine.
  10. Use a new crush washer and replace the drain plug/bolt.
  11. Tighten the bolt with the torque wrench to the recommended torque.
  12. Add your oil.
  13. Measure with the dipstick and top off the engine.
  14. Replace your oil fill cap.
  15. Start engine, run briefly.
  16. Wait a few minutes for the oil to settle.
  17. Check dipstick again, it should be a little lower.
  18. Top off the oil to the "Hi" or full mark on your dipstick.
Be careful not to overfill the engine with oil. If you do, the crankcase will be whipping air into the oil like an egg beater. The bubbles will prevent the oil from creating a protective film around your engine parts... BAD!!!
Remember that since the oil filter is empty, your oil level will go down when you first start your engine. The goal here is to add as much oil as you can without ever going over the full mark on your dipstick.
Photo Gallery
I've setup my photo gallery. Actually, I've transferred the old gallery from my slow P3 450Mhz server to a 1.4 Ghz Athlon box. The upgrade was necessary since my friends kept complaining about how slow it was. The software that I'm using to host the gallery is creatively called Gallery. I'm very impressed with how well this software works. The gallery requires several other pieces of software which you have to configure individually, but Gallery (with a capitol 'G') is the glue that connects all those pieces together. Sure, its nearly impossible to get all the pieces of software, make sure you get the right version of each one, configure each one so that its compatible with Gallery, but hey, look at the results! Gallery has all sorts of help and screens and even TESTS to make sure you have all the pieces configured correctly. For something that seems so complicated, I'm really impressed by how much attention to detail is given to making the whole process easier. Plus, when you factor in the price... Free!... you can see how impressive this really is.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I've Hacked my Router!
I have a Linksys WRT54GS Wireless-G Broadband Router with SpeedBooster. I bought this baby at BestBuy after convincing my wife that we needed it for our HTPC to work in the living room without draping network cables all over the place. Apparently this router used to run Linux. Since its introduction, there have been 5 different revisions of this same router. The first 4 had linux. The last one has half to a fourth of the memory and a proprietary OS called VxWorks which makes it nearly impossible to hack. Guess which one I got. Fortunately, I stumbled upon DD-WRT. It's a linux firmware of the router with all sorts of bells and whistles. It turns out that they make a micro-edition which is just small enough to fit in the 2MB of flash memory on my router! Plus, their site has all this support for ridding this device of VxWorks so that I can get a proper OS on this baby. Don't you just love the open source community?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Got back from Peru last monday. It was quite a trip.
Peru is one of the few countries where you can experience almost every climate: jungle, mountian, beach, desert.
Our first leg was going to Machu Picchu. Our first stop was in Cuzco (10,000 feet), where we got some mate de coca or coca tea, a local remedy for high altitude sickness. The active ingredient in these leaves is the same stuff found in cocaine. When we got to Machu Picchu I no longer felt the effects of the high altitude. Not sure if its because is at a lower elevation, it wasn't so bad. Next to Machu Picchu is a mountain overlooking it called Wyna Picchu. We climbed the steep mountain for an hour to get this view:
Next we went to Cuzco, Puno, Lake Titikaka, and then to Arequipa, which I liked the most. Arequipa is home to the Santa Catalina Monastery. Its one of the most photogenic places I've seen. The colors are bold and vibrant. Indigo blue, terra cotta orange, and Spanish red are the only colors used on the walls.
After that we flew back to Lima, did the city tour. The next day we had a day trip to see the Nazca Lines before flying back home. I do have to say that the AeroCondor tour that we took was incredibly disorganized, and for $700 bucks (for 2) is not really worth it.